butterflies: change caterpillars can believe in
Creative Commons License photo credit: rhettmaxwell
I’m very fond of a story about three old wondering monks. Throughout the year they wonder the countryside alone. But at a particular time each year they spend time together at a hut in the forest. During that time they talk of the Tao and the experiences they’ve had throughout the past year.

One particular year they get to talking about impermanence. One old monk ruminates that, “Given the impermanent nature of the universe who is to know if any of us shall be alive to return to this hut again the next year?” The second monk corrects the first monk by saying that, given the fact of impermanence, “Who is to know after going to sleep this night who of us shall wake the following morning?” The third monk calmly explains that the other two have yet to grasp the full implications of impermanence. “For who is to know, having exhaled a breath, whether one will inhale again or not?”

The teaching behind this story really struck me when I first read it and continues to do so today. The fundamental nature of our world is change. Nothing ever remains the same. What is built up will eventually be torn, or at the very least worn down. At a basic level our physical bodies constantly change as old cells die and are replaced through the unending process of digestion and assimilation of nutrition.

“Wisdom is the complete willingness to be the plaything of chance circumstances.”

– Lao Tzu

People come into our lives and they go. Our personalities, knowledge and intuitive and logical intelligence grow and transform. Experiences and situations flow constantly into the range of our senses and perception. Thoughts and emotions come and they go and stir up our being in the process. Things die, which is very different from saying things cease to exist, and other things are born. The planets, the solar system, galaxies and beyond are in constant motion. Constant flux and transformation is evident in all things. Why then do we live as if the nature of things was not so? Why do we resist change and become attached to all manner of things? To do so is only to our detriment.

Interestingly our genes have on and off switches, controlled by hormones. Our hormones in turn respond to environmental cues. Because of this we are very finely tuned to survive by responding event to event (quite literally millisecond to millisecond), because the only sure thing in nature is changing circumstances. Without this system, we couldn’t vary our behavior in sync with the immediacy of the occurrence.

”Every living thing is an interactive machine or biocomputer programmed for adaptive intelligence. This means the definition of life is the ability to learn and change in response to experience. This experience-based decision system allows each life form to change in response to every other life form, because hormones control your behavior and your genes.”

– T. S. Wiley

The above quote makes me wonder what happens in someone who’s hormonal system is non-functioning because of bad diet and poorly managed stress in all its forms (read: 90% of the population). Such a person is literally a walking corpse that died back when learning and changing from experience stopped. That is according to how the quote defines life. Chances are this happened for many of us some time around age 12.

It may surprise you to know extensive psychological research suggests that the majority of us are who we were developmentally at age 12. Don’t think so? Take a moment to watch the behavior of the so-called mature adults around you. Watch the infantile tantrums that occur daily in traffic around the world. Think about your own instances of regression into infantile states when your behavior was more suited to someone of the 2 –12 age group.

We all have these moments from time to time. For some of us they are almost a daily occurrence for others they occur only after an extended period of extreme stress. I’ve noticed that many of us have control issues. When things don’t work out how we would like or get taken out of our hands we tend to resist. No one likes being told what to do but when change inevitably comes resistance is futile.

“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.”

– Lao Tzu

Today while helping my dad load a trailer with some heavy things, despite fixing the trailer so it wouldn’t tip, the trailer did actually tip. Some rather heavy things came tumbling out. I managed to stop some and had the sharp metal of the trailer come down on my toes for my trouble. After stopping my foot from bleeding everywhere (I don’t think anything is broken) with a bandage and sports tape we righted everything and put it all back on the trailer.

My point is things happen, often very unexpected things with very unexpected consequences. Life is one thing after another without end. Nothing remains the same. You can live your life like many people are doing and try to ignore this fact or you can choose to flow with change. Resistance is futile and only produces pain and anguish if you try. Going with the flow on the other hand is effortless. Merge with change and the beautiful and wondrous multiplicit vicissitudes of life open up to you. Ultimately peace and happiness in the endless present is made possible.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

– Lao Tzu

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