Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Expecting Change: A Way to Reduce Anxiety

In Buddhism there is something called "The Three Marks of Existence".  They are:  Impermanence, Suffering, and Non-Self.  All three are interrelated and are very interesting to study, but for the sake of this blog we will focus on Impermanence. 

Most people around the world right now felt (and are still feeling) the change that COVID-19 caused in our ordinary lives.  The virus was an abrupt interruption to our illusion that whatever it is we are doing, or whatever it is that is happening in our world at any given time, will just keep on going as it is. 

The reality of death and sickness interrupt (or wake) us in this way, and so does aging.  But biologically, and psychologically it seems, we humans can only handle so much change at once before we get overwhelmed and stressed out.  When change comes extremely fast we can suffer shock, such as when we are in a sudden accident or traumatized otherwise.  But other changes, such as the COVID virus, that altered the way we work, function, and live are also things that comparably have a rapid onset and force change faster than can be adjusted or adapted to.

So if you feel like you are just now coming out of a little bit of shock in regards to the sudden demand for change that has been brought on by the COVID virus, and the way it has affected the world and human behavior, you are not alone.  Many of us are beginning to shake our heads and ask..."What in the world just happened?"

But something else that stands out about the COVID situation is the change that has been demanded of us all.  If you were (are) not trying to figure out how to set up a doable ability to work from home, you were (are) at least pushed to do your grocery shopping differently.  From the way we interact, such as greeting one another with foot or elbow bumps instead of handshakes, to the way we line up now to wait our turn to just shop in a store.  Or if your hours were reduced at work, or you were laid off completely, the change is something many cannot escape, and something that has come in abundance.

So the idea behind impermanence as a "mark of existence" is that change is always going to be a part of life.  And we only suffer when we want that fact to be other than what it is.  When we find something we like, we try to grasp onto it and keep it "forever", but no matter how hard we try, it will change.  And when we find something that we dislike, we try to escape it or avoid ever coming nose-to-nose with it again.  But the truth is, we will most likely run into it again someday in a different form--be it pain, illness, financial stress, heartbreak, or any other of the harder events in life.  Our existence has both and they constantly change from one into the other.

So, COVID helps to remind us that nothing lasts forever.  Not good things, and not bad things.  It reminds us that we only suffer when we think it should be otherwise.  When we want (desire) COVID to not exist, to go away faster than it can or will, when our favorite store closes because of the virus, and when we can't do things as we are used to doing them, we only suffer by wanting the whole existence of that reality to be different than what it really is.  COVID is an incredible lesson and reminder that impermanence is indeed a "mark of our existence", and we can have less anxiety and suffer much less when we keep this in mind.