Changes lead to suffering. Insight into change teaches us to embrace our experiences without clinging to them — to get the most out of them in the present moment by fully appreciating their intensity, in the full knowledge that we will soon have to let them go to embrace whatever comes next.
To help us recognize our suffering—and begin to seek its cause and cessation—Buddha broke it into 3 types of changes that lead to suffering:
1. The changes in our physical body. This is the one we’re all familiar with: the discomfort when we go from healthy to getting sick, growing old when the body parts are slowly deteriorating, from being alive to drawing our last breath. The changes are so subtle that we often fail to recognize them and somehow we choose to ignore the fact that all these processes of change are mandatory.
2. The changes in our possessions. When we do get what we want, we can’t hold onto it. Even if things are going great now, it’s just a matter of time. Your favorite toy will become dirty and damaged. Not having what you want, or getting what you want, and then feeling afraid of losing it. These material things are all subjected to changes that we can’t foresee or control.
3. The changes in our unstable inner emotions. This is the type of suffering we are most likely not to recognize, yet the most instructive when we do. One minute we are happy that we got a promotion; the next minute, that happiness can turn into anxiety that we can’t deliver on our boss’s expectations. It’s the general background of anxiety and insecurity that colors even our happiest moments. Deep down, we fear that life doesn’t offer us solid ground and that our very existence is questionable.
If our experiences are so fleeting and changeable, are they worth the effort needed to produce them? How can we find genuine hope in the prospect of positive change if we can’t fully rest in the results when they arrive? Would you rather things not change? If so, aren’t we just setting ourselves up for disappointment?
Perhaps we should roll with the changes and learn how to produce change when we want it. As you can tell, change is built into the nature of things; nothing is inherently fixed, not even our own identity. If we can truly grasp that the intrinsic nature of life is change, it will bring us hope because no matter how bad the situation, anything is possible. We can do whatever we want to do, create whatever world we want to live in, and become whatever we want to be.
Learn to approach the pleasures and pains life offers not as fleeting ends in themselves, but as tools for awakening. With this attitude, we release ourselves from the prison of endless thoughts. We plunge into the freedom of happiness. The happiness remaining lies radically beyond the range of our time- and space-bound conceptions of ego. Independent of mind-objects, it’s unadulterated and unalterable, unlimited and pure.
And that’s what Buddhist practice is all about.