Many of us try to find some constant in reality that we can hold on to, some one thing that will not change, that we can depend on. Well… if the computer age has taught us anything new, it’s that really the only dependable constant in life… is change itself.
Many people imagine this in the worst possible way: nothing can be counted on. Nobody can be trusted. Everything you know could get taken from you in an instant. People’s fear of change paralyzes them and stops them from realizing their full potential as human beings. But that’s only one side of the story.
In a recent discussion, somebody said to me “when I sit down in this chair, I trust that it will hold my weight and not disintegrate and drop me to the floor.” Yet there is still a small possibility it will happen. Scientifically, the chair’s structure does change when a weight is applied on top of it. And each time somebody sits in the chair, it becomes a teeny-weeny bit more likely to collapse.
And yet we accept this kind of change, because we can imagine that it’s not there. A lot of people see a chair that does not noticeably change its shape as unchanging. Reliable. Fixed. Dependable. And for the moment, that’s fine. It’s quite necessary in life to be able to say “this I can count on” even when the odds are not exactly 100%.
But what happens when so many of the things we take for granted are taken from us? Very often, the thing that most disappoints a person is when that person thought they could count on something happening, and it ultimately doesn’t happen. Or vice versa.
The key is to be able to take changes in stride, even when such changes could never have been imagined. If you can have faith deep down that change can happen in any way, at any time, you can achieve a higher level of openness and lower level of fear about what you don’t yet know.
Now, having faith in change is not something we talk about a lot! It’s much more common to hold a faith in the absolute. And of course, balance is necessary – not everything can change at the same time. But much too often, in people’s search for an absolute of some sort that they can believe in, one gets blinded to realities they could know, because out of fear of change, they have become sealed off to everything that does not fit into this absolute. Dogmatic, inflexible belief in one thing is definitely easier for many, especially since it makes people feel like there is nothing that can’t be answered – but then by giving in to the craving for something constant, we are in danger of ignoring very important things that we don’t yet know, and thus inadvertently accepting untruths frighteningly easily.
We have these beautiful faiths, whose stories of peace, love, and dedication often become deformed into movements that promote intolerance and hatred – they cease to be true messages of love, because real love and compassion can never be dogmatic. Love and compassion must adapt to change – their existence remains constant despite and throughout change – otherwise such feelings become conditional and in effect no longer exist.
Change, of course, is not the only reality. As much as things are changing all the time, there is also a constancy in reality that gives us a frame of reference for things. But very often, society can be so confusing, disorienting, and even violent, that people seek out only the things that are unchanging and value such “unchanging” things over and above everything else – and this is a big mistake.
This cult of the unchanging is why people stand by while injustice, abuse, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide take place, even long before it’s too late – because challenging such atrocities and standing up for what is right often involves a lot of change in thinking and environment. The most devastatingly successful atrocities – like the Nazi project to eliminate Jews – very often advance slowly, over a period of many years, as a way of not perturbing people into feeling that there is too much change going on. The same goes for all sorts of other injustices large and small, be it long-term patterns of abuse within families, cultures of harassment in groups, and so on – the injustice is permitted to continue all along as long as it doesn’t ever change things too quickly, even though it could be snuffed out.
If you understand that change is always possible (and, in fact, is always happening), you then become able to understand just how many trillions of possibilities there are at any one time! And rather than becoming dazzled and paralyzed by all this choice, you expect it as a part of life. This allows a positive approach; when injustice happens or is about to happen, you can now examine all of the infinite number of options that exist and proceed from there. You may even decide to do nothing at certain moments – but in the next moment, a new door opens. That’s the beauty of being at peace with change.
Positive people know this. They know they don’t have all the answers. What they do know, however, is that very often there are many right answers, not just one; and that every new moment and every new development brings new possibilities. There’s rarely a time in which something “just is so” and nothing more, especially when you see life as the fluid moving film that it is, rather than a series of events with nothing in the middle. There’s always context, always history, always possibility, always the next moment, when things will not be as they are this moment… and such people know where to start looking when they don’t know all the answers.
The tightrope walker stays on the tightrope… but not without constant adjustment at every new moment, no matter how perfect the previous moment felt. The secret is that the tightrope walker becomes so used to constantly making adjustments with each new moment, that such adjustments, rather than feeling like a never-ending chore, become easy and eventually require little to no thought – just like breathing.
A footnote: the absence of an absolute has even been proven in the realm of physics – that all the physical “laws” that we take for granted as being unchanging and absolute, are actually relative to so many things: where the observer is, how fast the observer is moving, in what direction the observer is moving, etc. None of these laws is truly an absolute law. That’s why Einstein’s proofs are collectively known as the Theory of Relativity, and why Einstein is so famous. His work proved, in physics, the constancy of change, just as is the case with matters of the spirit.