This continues from the article “Do you ever feel discouraged?”
If someone were to ask you: “Do you want to be exactly the same person, in the same situation, in the same moods, in 5 years’ time or even 10 years’ time?”, chances are you’d think, “Heck, no!”, especially if you understand your potential for happiness and think about the number of irritants you currently have in your life.
So one part of us wants to change.
The other part of us hates the idea. “You’ve got to move.” “No, I don’t want to move.” Our partner starts changing, or our kids start changing, or our job changes, and it makes us nervous, it unsettles us. Not to mention our fear of death, our own and that of others close to us.
We want things to change and remain the same. So this ambivalence about change – wanting it and dreading it — can be a problem! Change makes us anxious, yet at the same time we know we need to change. Why? Because we’re not happy where we are, we are always wishing things were different at some level. We are rarely free from some level of dissatisfaction; even when we’re having a good time there is still some sense that we could make it even nicer or better, or else worrying, “Oh no, this is really good, but it’s about to be over!”
There is always a shifting going on, a wanting things to be different to get away from the basic dissatisfaction in our heart, but we can’t get no satisfaction. Mick Jagger got that one right. And we try, and we try. It doesn’t matter how much we shift around our external circumstances, the basic dissatisfaction in our heart remains, and that’s why we want change.
That’s why we want it, yet at the same time we dread it. Better the devil you know. Big changes tend to make us very insecure, even if they are not bad ones, because at least we feel we have a sort of handle on the current situation even if it sucks – “The new job, city, apartment looks better, but I don’t know… it’s a bit unsettling all this.”
Here’s an example of wanting to change and not wanting to change. I have a good friend who always arrives late at places – sometimes so late that he misses the entire event! He arrived halfway through his own birthday party recently. To hear him tell it, there’s nothing he can do about it. But, and he is not alone in this, if you are a perpetual late arriver it is not because you can’t tell the time — you know exactly when you need to leave to arrive on time. Usually something like this happens: “Ok, time to go… oh, hold on, let me just do this and that, put my laundry in the drier, nip into this shop on the way, get some gas … Oh, I’m late again!” That is an act of self-sabotage because you’re wishing to arrive on time to blow out your own candles with your invited guests, and yet arranging it in such a way that you are not going to be there on time. It may seem to just sort of happen, but if we check, we are making a choice, as a result of which we’re going to be late.
This is an example of how on the surface we want to change, but subconsciously in the realm of deeper habits we don’t want to. And so we’re at odds with ourselves, which is tiring and discouraging. If we check our habits in meditation, especially the ones we don’t like, we can see what it is we are doing to feed that habit. When we step back and look at it, it’s a choice we’re making. It might be a weighted choice coming with a lot of habit behind it, but still it’s a choice.
Spiritual practice is all about change
So it seems we have an ambivalence – on the one hand we want change and on the other hand we are afraid of change and cling on to the same old things with attachment. And spiritual practice is all about change. It’s all about training our mind, letting go of attachment, moving our mind somewhere new. It’s all about identifying the internal causes of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, inner conflicts – the delusions – and getting rid of them. It is all about changing our lifelong habits of relating to others and to ourselves in unconstructive ways by increasing our positive minds such as love and wisdom. Meditation practice is a systemic process of transforming the mind. It requires effort. And effort requires aspiration – we have to WANT it. We have to therefore WANT to change our mind, deep down, without the ambivalence.
The four mental powers that help effort
The sign that we’re applying actual effort (as opposed to being lazy) is that we are changing. We’re becoming more peaceful, positive, flexible, kind-hearted, strong, free. Not necessarily day-by-day – monitoring it on a daily basis just sets us up for more grasping or impatience – but month by month, year by year. How do we apply effort in such a way that it is going to bring about these results? It has everything to do with our (1) deepest wishes and motivations, (2) steadfast confidence, (3) joyfulness, and (4) ability to relax and recharge. Shantideva teaches these 4 powers extensively in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (and further commentary is in Meaningful to Behold.)
These four powers are the way to increase our effort. It might be worth noting that effort is a state of mind, or so-called “mental factor”, unto itself, and it is by nature “virtuous”, ie, creating the cause of happiness. Therefore, the more we are enjoying any spiritual or virtuous practice, the more good karma we are creating! It seems to be a win win.
More here …
Over to you… comments welcome.
Being late is probably an effect of guilt tripping other people for being late.
Not monitoring it day by day… I think that’s where I sometimes go a bit astray haha
It’s like I’ll occasionally feel in a rut and stare at any glimmer of hope. Or I’ll await more progress every few hours when I’m in a good meditation/study groove.
Always is a delight to read your blog,thanks for leting us to contemplate so many experiences in our daily life,and have the opportunity to change and to train.
I will look forward to read again ; Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life ,and further commentary in Meaningful to Behold.
Change is inevitable isn’t it. Try stepping in the same stream twice. I think the trick is how we view that change. That’s the thing that seems to make all the difference.
Saying that, I’m a persistent late offender. I’d disagree that it’s a choice I make though. I often find myself leaving for an event at just the time I’m meant to be there, as if assuming some sort of time travelling capability. I don’t know why I do this, (I can’t time travel) and it hits me with sudden shock and regret when I realize the mistake.
Gen Chonden thinks it’s attention seeking, but believe me, walking into a class late is totally not the sort of attention I want. I’d much rather be on time, but time rarely seems to be on my side. It’s a good point about effort though. I think if I applied the practice of joyfully getting somewhere on time… I just might!
Thanks Luna. Great post, good reminder!
Thank you so much. I enjoy every one of your posts!
like the post, just been contemplating this morning what I could change that will improve my life even more, something that I will enjoy doing and then I received this post on change 🙂
Having realised looking at the problem doesn’t really solve it I now have a much stronger wish to practise dharma – especially tantra as a means of applying the solution. But I’ve been worried if I’ll be able to actually follow through with this wish. Your article will help me a lot regarding this point. Thanks x x
This is great!Thank’s!Yes best wishes,merci
I think I have lived my life by the maxim “It’s better the devil you know”……in truth and on reflection it can be a stultifying choice with many opportunity costs thrown away and rarely stepping out of a comfort zone that becomes like a straightjacket.
You describe the self defeating subconcious habits perfectly :they have derailled me in the past and if I do not work on aspiration diligently they will have the power to do so in the future.I have a lot of work to do.
Thanks for this Luna.Your encouragement is essential for me.Best wishes.