Permanence is a funny thing.  I read a fair bit of eastern philosophy and so I’m familiar with the idea that all is impermanent.  And I’m equally familiar with the terror this can call up for so many of us.  The idea that all we are and all we love will one day be gone is an abyss most of us dare not look into.  The funny thing is, we’re just as frightened of permanence.  

We don’t want things to change.  And we don’t want them tonot change.

We’re afraid of both, but I’ve discovered that most of my fears are based on bullshit so I’ve been exploring impermanence and permanence and how they interact, especially around personal change.  First, let me say something: the idea that you need to change or that you should desire change seems like a cruel one to me because it’s predicated on the idea that there is something wrong with you now and therefore you need to change into something better, perfect, more lovable in the future.

Screw that, really.  “I’m okay and you’re delightful!”  So let me revise and say that I have been exploring the interaction of impermanence and permanence around growth.  We all grow, that’s just part of being a human with a very alive and physical body.  It’s so much a part of us that it could very well be our main function, like, a potential cocktail party conversation could be, “So nice to meet you!  What do you do?”  “Oh, you know, I grow.”  “Me too!”

We grow, we change, not just physically but mentally and emotionally throughout our lives.  We are the very picture of impermanence.  I have noticed, however, a fear in myself and in some of the folks I coach when it comes to growing in a new and uncomfortable way.  It’s as if we are not afraid so much of a particular change we are trying to make in order to grow, but that we are afraid of a permanence that we imagine will come with the change we are making.  Basically we are afraid that if we make this decision to try a new and unfamiliar thing that there is no going back, we’re stuck with it forever.

It’s a fear, but it’s not really real.  Well, kind of it is.  Let me explain:  if we try something new there really, truly is no going back.  Let’s say you love vanilla ice cream and one day you get daring and try chocolate.  You can always go back to eating vanilla, but now you know about chocolate, you’ve had that experience, and you will never again be the guy who only ever ate vanilla ice cream forever.  Say good bye to that Guiness World Record, sorry.  So, in that way there is no going back.  But you can go back to vanilla, you have that choice still.

Like I said earlier, I’ve realized most of my fears are based on bullshit, so I’ve really been trying to let go of this one.  Something that I’ve been pushing myself on for a long time now is learning to love the things I don’t like or am scared of.  I talked about this some in my last post aboutembracing uncertainty.  This is how I think of it:  if there is something that I find unpleasant, that I don’t like or that I’m afraid of, that is a limitation on my experience of life.  If, however, I choose to find value in that thing, to actively try to engage it in some way by enjoying it or embracing it when normally I would avoid it or try to stop it, that gives me a broader and deeper experience of my own life.

For me, embracing uncertainty has allowed me to navigate my fear and find an edge to it that feels more like excitement, freedom and adventure.  This feels pretty magical to me when I’m actually able to do it.  It feels like a richer participation with my own life.

When I first started this practice I felt a nagging fear in the back of my mind.  What if I tried to embrace uncertainty, to accept it and allow it in and have a relationship with it and it sucked?  What if it was a terrible experience?  What if I hated every moment of it and I had been right all along to avoid that feeling and fear it and never want to experience it?  What then?  What would I do?

The answer to that is so obvious and simple, but it’s not usually one that seems to enter into our mental calculations when considering making a change in the name of growth.  What if you hate it?  What if it doesn’t work for you?  Well, then screw it.  Go back to the other way.  Stop doing the new way you hate and forget all about that and move on.

Of course being able to do that, to try something, not have it work and then try something else or even the same old thing again, means we have to admit to making a mistake.  This is anti-perfectionism at it’s finest!  We have to ask ourselves two questions, “How’s that working for you?” and if the answer is, “Not so great,” we have to be willing to ask, “Now what?”

Letting go of the idea that we can only try one thing, or that the first thing we try has to be the right thing, ultimately opens us up for so much more and deeper growth.  And really, what is all that trying but just experience?  As I like to tell myself, “The only thing that separates you from an expert is experience.”  It helps me take that big breath and then take the plunge when trying something new.  After all, if I hate it I can always just go back to whatever I was doing before.

And this takes so much of the pressure off of us!  Whatever we try doesn’t have to be the “right” thing, or the only thing.  It just has to be a thing we are trying.  That’s really the only way we can know for sure if something does or doesn’t work for us.  So go ahead, try to be compassionate to those around you.  If you really hate being a kinder person just go back.  Try to be nicer in your self-talk.  If encouraging yourself is just terrible for you, forget it, you don’t have to do it anymore.  Try that new salsa dancing class at the Y, why not (see what I did there)?  If you hate it, it’s okay, it’s okay to hate salsa dancing!

Ok, clearly (and unsurprisingly) I’m being a smartass here.  But hopefully I’ve made my point.  Think of how babies learn about the world, everything goes in their mouth.  No, I’m not suggesting you start putting everything in your mouth (who knows where it’s been?), but I am suggesting that you sample, try out, try on and explore.  That’s the only surefire way to know what does and doesn’t fit you.

Elias Gross