Saturday, September 13, 2014

Change

The company I work for recently got purchased. Right after the sale was announced, many of my co-workers were anxious. Would there be lay-offs? Would we lose benefits? Would our new owners change the way we operate? Were they going to absorb us into their much larger fold?

My colleagues and I were lucky. Our new owners were transparent, answered all our questions to the best of their abilities, and assured us that we would remain autonomous. They promised that wages and benefits would either remain the same or increase, but that under no circumstances would we find ourselves in a worse position than before the acquisition.

Despite these reassurances, many of my co-workers remained skeptical. What-ifs buzzed and swarmed throughout the office sewing anxiety and discontentment. Things that might happen weighed heavily on people's minds.

What if our new owners were lying? What if they turned around and did all the stuff they promised they wouldn't? What if, what if, what if? Seneca was bang-on when he said that "we suffer more from imagination than from reality."

Worrying about what might happen doesn't prevent it from becoming so. And even if the worst happens, the only thing that makes it "the worst" is your opinion, and you can ditch that anytime you like. Remove the judgment and what are you left with?

Change.

Change is constantly happening all around you whether you like it or not. Everything is in constant motion. Nothing stands still. All matter--whether stars, planets, or people--is subject to the universal cycle of birth, development, decline, dissolution, and rebirth.

For thousands of years philosophers and spiritual guides have been trying to tell us about this. They've warned us that the only constant is change, that life is brief, and that nothing is certain. In the 6th century BCE, Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
Little did Lao Tzu know just how right he was. It wasn't until modern science came on the scene that the ever-changing state of the universe truly came into focus.

All around us, entropy is prying apart the atomic bonds that hold stuff together. Matter assumes form temporarily, shaped by God's invisible hands, before it is reabsorbed and reassembled into new forms. Marcus Aurelius advised:
Observe constantly that all things in life occur by change, and accustom yourself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change the things that are, and to make new things like them.
The universe is a machine that recycles itself into ever increasing complexity. It uses the bones of dead stars to craft new stars, planets, moons, asteroids, gasses, liquids, and organic matter.

We short-lived humans are especially susceptible to entropy. We wage a never-ending battle against decay, feeding fuel into our meat-vehicles and causing them to grown and regenerate. As a result, there isn't a piece of you here and now that existed when you were a child. Your entire body has recycled and remade itself on a number of occasions. That's why Heraclitus said that
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.
Heraclitus, an influential pre-Socratic philosopher who lived in Greece between  535 and 475 BCE, also said that “nothing endures but change” and "All entities move and nothing remains still."

Some change feels unpleasant, painful, or unjust, but those feelings are generated by your mind and have no basis in objective reality. If you can do anything to prevent or mitigate what you perceive to be negative change, take action; if nothing can be done, then accept the hand God dealt you. What good is there in resisting what already is, especially if it cannot be changed? You would do better to take Aurelius' advice to
Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.
In other words, make the best of every situation you find yourself in. If it is unpleasant and can be altered, do so; of it cannot be changed, of if you tried and failed to change it, accept it with every fiber of your being. 

In a universe that "loves nothing more than to change the things that are," it stands to reason we shouldn't get too attached to anything. The loss of external things such as material wealth, possessions, and reputation should be expected as a matter of fact. "Loss," Aurelius assures us, "is nothing but change, and change is Nature's delight."

Wise man and stellar beard.
View your earthly possessions as being on loan from the universe. Whenever you come by some precious item, large sum of money, prestigious position, or anything of the like, recite the following: "Receive without conceit, release without struggle."

Knowing full well that the universe is change, and that loss is merely a kind of change, you ought to place little value on material possessions. If you don't believe Marcus Aurelius or the other wise fellows I've quoted in this post, then at least listen to the man who died for your sins:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.
Treasure that which is and will always be yours. Be happy with what you have, imagine how life would such without them, and expect to lose it all at any moment.

"Wealth," Epictetus tells us, "consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

Resisting change is like swimming against a strong current. You might succeed for a time but the river will inevitably exhaust and sweep you along any way it likes. Instead of resisting, ride the current in the direction you wish to go and accept where you end up without resentment, regret, or anxiety.

Your circumstances are what they are; either change them or make the best of them. 

/rant over
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