Embracing Change – Accepting Uncertainty

Will: Good morning.  Nancy and Michael are here with me today. This morning I thought I would bring up embracing change. So is it really possible to embrace change? Everything is always changing. What is there to embrace?

I was browsing through the opinion section of the New York Times and I saw an old article in there that said if you want to save your marriage, embrace change. Well, that’s a can of worms, we won’t go there. I wanted to approach this from a broader perspective. These thoughts are sort of intellectual, right? These are ideas, things that we work with in our minds. But when you sit your ass down on the cushion, are you embracing change? I would say yes because it’s a full body, full mind, body, soul experience. It’s complete action in the moment. Here it is. This is it. Otherwise, embracing change is a bunch of ideas that you just kind of pile one on top of each other. And then you’re just kind of making it up. Embracing change to me implies letting go. Just letting go. A very simple way to say it is don’t know. Don’t know is the reality. Embracing anything is a delusion.

I think the implication when you use the term embrace change is don’t know. Then whatever is, is. And you can flow with it. You can be with it. You can allow it. Because you’re not knowing. You’re not making. You’re not suggesting it has to be a certain way in order for you to participate in the game. When we do that, when we cling to and hold on to something really tightly, it has to be this way, then sometimes an argument ensues. A long time ago, I used the analogy of washing the dishes. I could complain that my wife is always leaving her dirty dishes there for me to clean. But she has a job. I don’t have a job in the same way she does. You see, she is in a hurry and has things to do. If I don’t know, I can just see all that. It’s not a problem. If I know, I’m saying, hey, I’m being taken advantage of here. I’m always doing this. Why isn’t somebody pulling their weight? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I love blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, by the way. It’s a great way of talking about what we do, which is basically nothing of any real significance when we’re making. That’s blah, blah, blah, blah.

That’s it for me. I took that heading of that intellectual exercise and I always thought, well, I like the saying, embracing change. But, I’m realizing that it’s such an intellectual step away from the actual experience, the direct experience, which is don’t know. See how concepts work? We build them over top of what’s actually happening.

In Koan practice, if this was a Koan, the Zen master would say, show me embracing change. Show me! Then that would be a real experience. And if you could not show him/her then we’d say, come back when you can show me. That’s it.

Michael: Speaking of embracing change, I’m going through a period right now where I’m pretty relaxed. I’m not too worried, kind of in a state of grace right now. And I’m finding my meditation practice is really kind of falling off for the first time in five years I’ve been doing it. Whereas I would sit every single day. Now I’m sitting maybe three times a week. And whereas it was something that I was very mindful of, like I need to get to this today because I felt like it was helping. It was like a bandage. It was helping me. Maybe I was in more of a state of duress or whatever. I’ve since been feeling calmer, I kind of forget it sometimes. And this hasn’t happened to me in the first five years. And I’m wondering now there’s part of me that feels guilty, but there’s also a part that asks if you’re saying embrace change, do I embrace my current state of grace and say, I don’t need it right now? Do I embrace change there or do I say, no, no, you stick with this?

Will: One thing I would say about practice is it’s happening all the time. And there comes a point in your practice where being on the cushion and being off the cushion are no different.

Michael: I don’t know if I’m there.

Will: That’s the question! Most practitioners, even though they experience what you’re describing, will still sit on the cushion, whether it’s three times a week or whatever. The practice continues. If you find yourself going astray if you’ve dropped your practice, then getting back on the cushion is probably a good idea. Do you see the finer point there? Because practice is mindfulness all the time, whether you’re sitting or not. Even if you’re not going astray, even if you’re in this place of contentment right now, everything changes. Be prepared.

Michael: Well, exactly. And that’s the thing, I remember a period of time, especially when I first started coming here, an immediacy, I was reaching out for help. I was in a very bad state. It was COVID and it was just a lot. I remember every time the sun would set, it would be like this sense of dread would come in. Like, I don’t know, I was afraid of sleeping. I was afraid, I was in a very weird state. And I’ve since, you know, came out of that, you know, and now it’s, there’s nothing, there’s now, there’s the practice just for the practice as opposed to the practice was a means to an end. Now, because I don’t feel that thirst to be saved, I’m going like, so now there’s just the practice. And it is a practice. I get that. But there’s this whole thing where I’m just kind of sitting back and kind of reflecting like, okay, well, I’m not feeling the need. Like I’m not, I’m forgetting because I’m not feeling that need of like, something needs to save me so I don’t go into that dark place.

Will: Yeah. So embracing change, getting back to that, is contentment. It’s being content with change. Whatever is happening, see, you don’t have any dread anymore. Not dreading the next shoe-dropping. Living in dread is like anticipating something whereas embracing change is living in the moment, you could say.

Michael: So in a sense, I guess I’m living in the moment for now.

Will: From my point of view, we’re always living in the moment. It’s just we think we’re not.

Michael: Right. But maybe like you are saying, my state of grace is my state of grace at the moment. And I’m sure I’ll come out of it at some point.

Will: Awakening or enlightenment is seeing things as they are. And there are areas in our lives that are still kind of in the dark that we don’t really see. Either we have avoided them, or we don’t look for them, or we aren’t aware that they’re there. So they come up. And when we’re in a state of grace, as you put it, or embracing change or living fearlessly, then whatever comes up is another opportunity for more understanding. It’s something you look forward to rather than dread. Whatever is next, is next. Now you’re the lion.

Michael: I think of myself right now as an unclenched fist, ready to receive, as opposed to other times when you’re clenched up.

Will: Even in the midst of turmoil, contentment can exist there. I’ve talked about it as stillness in the midst of all this turmoil that’s going up and down in what we call duality. There’s always this still point. And that’s one of the things we achieve in our meditation. That’s Samadhi. We can bring that into our lives. Living with an open hand is what you’re talking about. It’s allowing understanding to just flow and not try to make it into something, contain it, or own it.

Micheal: Well, that’s why I said I felt like the session went very quickly and I found myself in a state of Samadhi for a good duration of it. But like you were saying, you can have that in your day-to-day life. But when you try to prolong it, hold on to it, is when it dissipates and you lose it. And here it is. And then there it goes.

Will: Yeah, because you’re no longer embracing change, are you? Embracing whatever you’re wanting to hold on to. This is an example of Zen sickness. All of a sudden, the traffic or the this or the that is disturbing your peace. You think, I just had a wonderful meditation. I’m all peaceful now. Look, some guy runs, and almost runs me over on the road. Then I get aggravated even more because I feel like something’s being taken away from me. When embracing change, nothing is taken away, nothing is lost, and nothing is gained.

Nancy: I like the phrase accepting uncertainty. That’s what I spent my Ph.D. sort of working with that concept of how people accept uncertainty in their life when they get sick, of course.

Michael: Your Ph.D. was on what exactly, Nancy?

Nancy: I looked at how people adjust to disruptions in their lives. I looked at certainty and uncertainty. I looked at the stories people create if they get a condition where it isn’t caused by a bacteria or a virus or a broken bone or something. It’s just uncertain. They don’t know what caused it. They don’t know the result of it. They don’t know the length of it. How do they adjust to that? How do they cope with it and how it affects their decisions about treatment?

Will: Yeah, it’s narrowing down the focus on what we’ve been talking about here, but it’s the same.

Nancy: Accepting uncertainty.

Will: Thanks to both of you for joining me today. Be well.

This is an edited transcript from the Podcast – Embrasing Change by Abbot Will Rauschenberger on 11/20/2022.  You may listen to the full podcast here. 

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