Moving with Change
by Kat Liu, member of the Quest editorial team, from her blog WizdUUM.net
Being religiously savvy Unitarian Universalists, most of you probably know that one of the core teachings of Buddhism is impermanence. All things are conditional, and thus all things change. For example, people get older. When you’re a kid this seems like a good thing. As an adult, not so much. (Young adults may not yet relate to this, but trust me, it’s coming.)
You may also know that Buddhism teaches that attachment, or grasping—for example, not wanting things to change (even though all things change)—is the cause of dukkha, the Sanskrit word that gets translated into English as suffering, or dissatisfaction.
Knowing this, I try to not be attached. I try to accept that everything changes, including all of us. People are born. People die. And those of us in between those two events grow older with every day. So it is partly due to age (and partly due to inactivity) that my joints are far less flexible than they used to be. I’ve suffered frozen shoulder on both sides, limiting their range of motion, and my knees ache if I sit in half-lotus position. (Forget full-lotus.) My eyes don’t focus quite as well as they used to, either.
I accept getting older with the intellectual understanding that aging is inevitable (unless you’re dead), and thus there is no point in lamenting the changes that come with it. But while stoic acceptance of aging may mitigate dukkha, suffering, dissatisfaction, I can’t say that there was any joy in that approach.
A few months ago I took a daylong workshop at East Bay Meditation Center or EBMC, in Oakland, California. I really did not know what to expect from the class, other than knowing that I admire one of the two teachers and wanted to learn from him. And he did not disappoint. But it was the other teacher, whom I did not know, whose wisdom that day was transformative.
One of EBMC’s core teachings is to embody the Dharma—literally—by reminding us that we are embodied beings. So I was not surprised when this other teacher started leading us in movement meditation. But I was a bit apprehensive about whether my body would be able move as requested.
I needn’t have worried. Using language that acknowledged our various degrees of mobility in the room, she guided us to stretch and bend so far as we were able to, emphasizing that whatever we did was enough, asking us to be gentle with ourselves. She encouraged us to focus not on what our bodies couldn’t do but instead on what they could and did do. And that, for me, caused a profound shift.
I realized that without being consciously aware of it I’d been thinking of my body as a machine that my mind rides around in, and machines break over time. But that way of thinking only looks at change in terms of loss, and the best you can do is to accept it.
Instead, our teacher reminded us that whoever we are is in large part due to our bodies, however they are. Through the ongoing, inevitably process of change, we are continually becoming something new together. Truly, that is cause for gratitude and celebration.