My life has changed enormously in the past twelve months. Almost nothing has remained the same.
I’ve changed jobs. My parents separated. My social circle is entirely different. My fiancé was diagnosed with brain cancer. I shaved off all of my hair. Everything is different.
In the beginning, these changes were all really difficult to deal with — difficult because they caught me completely off guard. I’d expected to finish education, waltz into a job, marry, have children and live an ordinary life.
Instead, I changed my plans to go to university, took up freelancing and had to learn to cope with the most shocking news I’ve ever received, facing the prospect of something I’d never even dreamed would happen to me in my twenties.
The only way I’ve managed to stay sane along the way is by learning to accept the fact that everything changes. Nothing will stay the same, and that isn’t always a bad thing. Let me explain.
Attachment Often Leads to Misery
Moments come and go. Days pass, as do weeks, months and years. Everything about you and your life is constantly changing. Nothing is permanent.
When reading those words, you might naturally assume that they’re negative — and therein lies the root of the problem. We see impermanence as a bad thing, and so we wish to avoid or prevent it.
Our attitudes towards change are often the cause of our misery — sometimes even more than the occurrence itself. We become attached to things that will someday be taken from us, and in doing so, we cause ourselves a lot of pain.
In fact, you could even go so far as to say that all of our emotional suffering comes from attachment. Losing a partner, a job, our money — these things would be easier to deal with if we accepted that they were inevitable facts of life. But we don’t.
Instead, we cling. We hold onto things. We dread ever losing them and our fear forces us to tighten our grip, only worsening our pain when these things inevitably fade. The problem isn’t necessarily that they disappear, but rather that we expect them to stay.
At first, I couldn’t cope with the drastic changes that hit me this year. I longed for the old days, looking at dated photographs and wishing to go back. I hadn’t ever expected any of those aspects of my life to change, or vanish completely. I expected everything just to stay all cushy and nice forever.
That can’t happen. It won’t. The world keeps spinning, and as it does, everything transforms.
Expect, Don’t Resist
I like to think that any bad situation can be treated as a lesson. Although that doesn’t always take the edge off the pain, it can help us to accept it and focus on more positive things. Usually, we can learn a lot from difficult times.
When my parents split, I learned that sometimes two people shouldn’t be together, even if they tell themselves that they should. Sometimes they just aren’t happy with each other and separation is the best course of action for them both.
When my fiancé was diagnosed, I learned that bad things don’t just happen to other people. Loss isn’t something that everybody else experiences, and someday we, too, may have to confront it.
When I shaved off my hair, I learned that nobody really cared about it as much as I did. Hair isn’t important. Neither is anything to do with your image. Character wins every time.
And the combination of all of these things taught me the most important lesson of all: life, and everything it contains, is impermanent.
The only way to cope with change is to accept that it will happen. It’s how I’ve coped with the trials and tribulations of the past year — by surrendering my resistance to impermanence. Expecting change, not fighting against it.
It doesn’t have to be something we fear. We don’t need to cling to each moment, each of our possessions or companions, terrified that we’ll be nothing without them. Because we will be something. We will be ourselves — but stronger. We are far more resilient than we may think.
Oftentimes, we conjure up worst-case scenarios in our head and shudder at the prospect of them ever materializing, adamant that we’d never be able to cope.
I know because I used to do it. I used to watch movies about people watching their partners battle cancer or watching their parents separate and think damn, I could never deal with that.
But here’s the thing: you’re imagining a situation that doesn’t exist. You imagine yourself buckling under the weight of that emotional pain, unable to face the day or function like a normal human being. You imagine that you’d never be able to cope with change, but when the time comes, you will.
If somebody had asked me a year ago how I’d face the year ahead, Christ, I’d have said that I wouldn’t stand a chance. Yet here I am, living. Standing. Coping.
No matter how big or scary change sounds in your head, when it happens, you’ll be ready — and it’s almost never as bad as you imagine it to be. Sure, it’s tough, but if you can expect it, if you can learn to accept the impermanence of life, you can deal with it.