How to deal with changes in life?
After people start learning a little meditation, I like to check in with them and find out how it is going. This summer, I met Bill (not his real name), a young teenager, and he told me a little story about how to deal with changes in life.
He shared that he had been playing basketball with an adult and went into a few details. I bet it was a pretty dynamic game since Bill was an athletic kid, and I could tell he had a competitive spirit.
If you are like many adults, maybe you don’t really try to win when you play with a child. But when the kid gets really good, well, you might step up your game too.
So it didn't surprise me when Bill told me that the adult won the game. And that Bill got frustrated. Really frustrated.
Now let’s pause for a moment and change the story a little. Bill = You. Basketball = Life. So you are going along in Life, and then, just like that, you lose. Things don’t go your way. Little things like your waiter didn’t bring the right meal, or big things like you lost a loved one, or you are very ill, or anything in between.
How do you deal with changes in life? Do you lash out? Do you fight? Do you physically, or emotionally flee? Or do you go numb? Fight, flight, freeze is something our brains are apparently wired to do at a very basic level.
So back to basketball. After Bill lost, he didn’t get stuck in fight/flight/freeze. He was very angry at first, but then he had a moment of clarity and remembered a little meditation tip. He walked over to the bench and sat down and felt his feet.
Yes, it is a little trick we practice which you could call “changing the channel”—from what you are worried or angry about to something else, like feeling your body. And it often works wonders, because it pushes the “pause” button by redirecting attention.
Bill felt the tingling in his feet. He noticed how alive his feet were, especially after running around. In those moments, he let his anger be, he didn’t engage with the stories in his mind about right and wrong and who was to blame, etc.
He just got curious and felt his feet. You can do that too. After reading this paragraph, see if you can shift attention to your feet. Feel the pressure of your feet on the ground or maybe the tightness of your socks and shoes against your feet. Notice the alive tingling or maybe some pulsing or vibrations. Notice warmth or coolness. Notice moisture or dryness. Try it now—with your feet or some other part of your body.
What happens when you do that? For a few moments, maybe you forgot what you were thinking about or worrying about before. Right?
But if you started thinking or worrying about your feet—gee, my feet are cold, I need to get some thicker socks. Or man, I need to cut my toenails. Or whatever…just change the channel and come back to the actual physical sensations. Try it again.
And that is what Bill did. He felt his feet for a few moments and forgot about his frustration and in the meantime, it disappeared.
And then he kept playing. Sure he had lost, but that situation was now a given—he had accepted it, and that was his new starting point.
He had not cussed at his adult friend, he had not stomped off and stewed about losing, he had not lost time spinning about the situation in his mind. He just took a break, changed the “channel” for a while and then came back into situation and became playful again.
What to do when you face small or big changes in life? Rather than quickly accepting and working with a situation skillfully, we often spend lots of energy in a mental/emotional struggle.
Certainly there are many situations that are much more significant than losing a pick-up basketball game. Life and death situations come to mind--situations that can take longer, maybe much longer for recovery.
But having been in a few of those myself, I would still propose meditative techniques to bring you ease on your journey, to eventually become playful--to be joyful again, and maybe even...to be at peace. What Bill tried is just one of those tricks.
Ultimately, meditation helps you be with whatever you are experiencing as it is happening, moment to moment, and then let it go without dwelling on it or building on it.
In this way, your own reactions to adversity can pass very quickly and peace becomes your predominant experience. But until you can do that, changing the channel is a very simple way to take a mini pause.
I’m sure you’ve heard before that change is a given in life. But how we respond to change is not a given.
Let’s learn from Bill!
Let’s try little things all day long that help us skillfully deal with small and big changes in life.