By Justin Cude
“It’s funny how people just won’t accept change.
As if nature itself — they’d prefer — rearranged…
If you have followed my writing for any stretch of time now, you will have noticed that most of my words dance with some form of change occurring in our lives (love, place, ideas, thoughts, wants, people, ourselves, etc.); reflection on how that change comes to be, observation on how it proceeds, and how it can hurt and or teach us something in its stay and its passing.
With this piece however, I want to try something else. I want to acknowledge from the beginning line that change is already set to happen, not to be shocked by this, and with this steadfastness, I want to try to be understanding, aware, welcoming and OK with that. To emulate the Stoics way of naming such practices, lets call this one: premeditatio mutatio, or premeditation of change.
I’m sitting here at my little brown desk in Beijing, China, typing away at an article that I hope to post soon, in a room that’s not mine and where I won’t be forever. I just poured myself a cup of coffee that I had heated just moments ago, and am now waiting for it to cool just enough so to drink from it. Sitting here, thinking of the words to say, only to delete a few which sounded right and then which didn’t, only to try again to maybe like their sound better and to continue on, with this line of thought and work I am also thinking of change and how I will meet it again, or rather how it is here always working, not behind the stage curtain, but apart of the same play as I, as all of us, always and forever.
I notice this now as it consumes my mind that I have always viewed change in a past tense sort of perspective. Never really having ever greeted it when it had arrived, only looking back on it after having noticed its supposed departure. And with this thought I realize that this line is wrong, but I will keep it here anyway as to track this thoughts progression. It’s not that we ever have or are even given the chance to greet change, or to say goodbye to it for that matter, either. Again, as said just a few lines up, in the paragraph above, change is always around, as active as the breath which keeps us alive, autonomic by the same nature.
This is not to say that things are ALWAYS changing, or that what we know now will not be the same as what we know tomorrow, but that little by little things are in fact ALWAYS changing, never stagnant, no matter the efforts of our wrestling with them to be here always, never to budge, never to fade.
The coffee is cooled enough now to drink it. A connection comes to me. The cooling of the coffee in a way describes what it is I am trying to say. The coffee cooled, just sitting there, in the same cup I had poured it into, without my influence and without my tampering. It changed, though not drastically or even visually noticeable to the degree of my vision, right in front of me as I was sitting here thinking of how to proceed with this piece, only moments having passed. And, not only did it cool, but it decayed, spiraled within its confines, sent steam into the air which faded, heated a circular area of the little brown desk of which it sat upon, became sweeter or more bitter due to the origin of it contents and the influence of the environment it now occupies, and so much more, again only moments having passed.
And, as I scan around the room at all of the inanimate objects surrounding me, none of them are the exact same as they were only moments ago. It sounds crazy I know, but it is true. I may not notice the changes visually, I may not be able to touch the changes or taste them, or to hear their movement, their transitioning from what they were to what they are, onto what they will be, but not one thing in this room, if left untouched, if not tampered with or influenced, would remain the same forever, and that shows further what I am attempting to say. Everything, all of this surrounding us, down to its biological level, is constantly changing, from one form on into another.
There’s a little bug in front of me now just weaving and hovering through the air only a small height above my desk and all that is positioned on-top it. And now that same bug is gone, away from my visual field. He could be behind me for all I know, because he is not making enough noise for me to hear, doing the same thing; just hovering or weaving. Or maybe its tired now and taking a rest on my shoulder, on the TV behind me, on the clothes rack, on anything. I look back. I don’t see the bug. But, I do see the city outside through my window. The bug is back. And now gone again. I look outside the window again. The world is moving. The cars seem to be gliding silently atop the road given that I cannot hear their rumbling-along from here, through the single paneled glass window, from this distance. Through that same window still, I see the newly sprung Spring leaves of the trees waving with the swaying wind. The bug returns, still weaving and hovering. Leaves again. A cough that I’ve had for a few days now barks, then fades. The coffee even cooler now, I notice as I go to drink from it again. I hear the person in the room directly behind the wall in front of me click his lights; on or off I do not know. The little fridge behind me to my left creates a noise. The bug returns. Gone again.
I left my desk for a moment and just returned, the thought of all this still with me. I’m going to move on now from noticing and attempt to get back to thinking.
Again, things don’t change as drastically as we expect them to. Not all the time at least. Sometimes they do, and we notice those, the big ones. They hurt us. Maybe some excite us. But, either way, they force change because we notice them. We don’t notice the smaller ones. The every day subtle changing of things largely goes unseen, unnoticed, unfelt, unbelieved. And because of this, when the big ones happen, though they have always gradually glaciered towards being, they catch us by surprise, and again they tend to hurt us. Some excite us maybe. Either way, they are demanding change, which they themselves will abide, but which we tend to argue with, reject and resist, and claim victim to their “harassment”.
This has always been my relationship with change. Though I myself, and others in my life who know me well, believe me to be open, understanding and even courageous with the changing tides of life, and though I am, maybe more so then I am not, they have always bothered me, changes.
I am unashamed to admit this. Even the exciting ones. Not just the ones that hurt. I’m a human and I like to know my surroundings. I like, and strive, to have some sense of comfort and security, gathering “resources” and stock piling “abundance”, whatever form that may be for the time and place and purpose, because they promise loyalty and steadfast protection. Even living a life thus far which disproves this, which has both shown and thrown me into states of scarcity and limitation, deprive and unknowing (I’m grateful for this ) we believe having protects us from the transitioning of things. It doesn’t. It never will.
This is not to say that having more so than not having doesn’t provide any type of benefit or worthwhile promising of pursuit for, but rather that having or not having, either one, doesn’t protect us from the every day subtle changing of things, and on towards their subsequent perceived-to-be colossal transitions, from what we know now onto what we don’t. With or without, nothing protects us from this.
But, is there anything about this that we need to be protected from? I think this is a better question to be asked and to be examined.
Premeditatio Mutatio, or again, the premeditation of change. In other words, the practice of noticing the subtle everyday changing of things, and the attempt to understand that things will not always be the same. Anything. Nothing.
Nothing which we as a species have monumentally constructed (cities, walls, infrastructure, systems, etc.). Nothing the world itself with all of its controlled and relaxed might has provided (terrain, environment, weather, resource,etc.). Nothing which the mind has attempted to maintain and or progress (religion, science, understanding, reality, etc.). Nothing which the universe itself contains (space, matter, limitation, unknown, etc.). Nothing about the vehicle which is our body nor the conductor of this vehicle, which is our mind. Nothing about anything remains the same, besides the only truth which has yet to be disproven; the changing of things.
So I revisit again, is there anything about this that we need to protection from?
I’m going to go close my eyes for a little while and allow my mind to just be. I will return to this later on.
It’s the next day.
I’m sitting at a coffee shop I have come to frequent quite a bit lately. The sun is burning the back of my neck as my head casts a shadow across the screen and keyboard of my computer. I like it here and I like this feeling. I won’t go into line by line detail of what I am about to share, but sitting here aware of it now, it is amazing, truly, just how many things have crossed my mind, have come and gone and influenced, since the beginning of this piece just yesterday, just about 24 hours ago exactly now.
Another example of the movement of things. Nothing is stagnant, even when they seem to be. Our thoughts, our beliefs, our understandings, everything which makes up the integrity of our contemplative consciousness, even this is in constant movement. Thoughts repeat, beliefs aren’t easily budged, understandings fight for their footing, but none are able to withstand or to go against the evolution of every moment, of everything within the confines of what we know as life and its moment by moment evolving. And, time doesn’t just evolve, but it fleets and it also continues. It may fleet for us, and for other living creatures, due to our ultimate demise, but time itself fleets from nothing. The mere fact that we will die, and that time will continue on its usual course, again supports the reality of change. We die, time evolves, and this is all manipulated in a moment by moment evolution, onward from now on into something else.
To regain traction, to get back to my proposed question from yesterday, I do not belief there to be anything we need to be protected from in the changing of things.
I stopped typing this and am just now revisiting it two days later, now. I am no longer at the coffee shop, but back at my little brown desk in the room I currently live. I had nothing else to say that day, but I feel now that I do and I hope to finish this piece and to move on to another, or to other projects of mine I need to work on.
I do not believe there to be anything we need to be protected from in the changing of things.
I started reading a new book which I purchased just a day ago, ‘Awareness’ by Anthony De Mello, and in its reading came across the following quote:
“The first reaction is one of fear. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You can’t fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear. “
It’s a powerful thought and its deeply true.
I am not, and I am sure the same for you reading this, afraid of what is to come. In the past I never was, and currently in the present I still am not. I was however, and again I would bet the same for you reading this, afraid of what I had lost, of the understanding which I had before the changing of things; of myself, of my environment, of others and of anything which made up my consciousness of which I was aware. The future doesn’t scare me and never has. Again, its always been the idea or the actual transitioning or realization that I had lost or had moved away, been pushed away, pulled away, fallen away, from a place of understanding, from one of knowing, to a place without either, and was scared to turn away and to proceed without them.
Another quote stuck with me from my reading:
“Because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand.”
Yet again, powerful and deeply true.
By attempting to keep things the way they once were, our understanding of what is is unable to be. By yearning and focusing on what has been, we remove any possibility of understanding and of knowing what is. By hoping they still were, we are blinding ourselves from knowing that they are no longer, and of what is right now, this very moment, this existence.
But, what leads us to not wanting things to change? Why are we so against these transitions?
“All of our miseries are nothing but attachment.” — Osho
If there is nothing to fear in the changing of things due to our ignorance of what is to come, and if the past is an ever fleeting place of which we have nothing physically to grasp on to, attachment to once was is where our agony, our anxieties and our fears are born from.
Simply put, we hold on to things that once were but no longer are…
… and I do not know exactly why. I am sure there is someone out there who understands with greater depth the mechanism in our brain behind this, but I myself do not have the answer. What I do somewhat know, whether it be backed by proof or not, is that somewhere within our thinking brain, we are able to turn away from this and to cast our focus towards the ever present now. And, in my experience, this is done by noticing more of the moment to moment changing of things. By being more aware of the transitioning of life from one moment to its successor, and so on.
Days have gone by now. I didn’t finish this piece by the first deadline I had set for myself. But, here I am, back at my little brown desk, sitting here drinking a perfectly tempered coffee in the morning hours of a clear-sky, Beijing day (I’m grateful for this). I have other places to be soon, but I want to be here now, working on this, so I am and, well, here we go.
Just above I stated that I didn’t have the answers as to why we hold on to things from the past, and I still don’t. I’m not necessarily looking for a version of this answer either at the moment, or even for the finishing of this piece. But, reading a post from a writer I like, which had within it a link directed to another post, a New Yorker article titled, ‘The Possibilian’, a piece by Burkhard Bilger focused on the near-death experience of David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author, and what it taught him about the mysteries of time and the brain, I stumbled upon ideas which invigorated me to return to this thought.
“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
It’s an amazing article, one with great depth and a variety of insights, one which highlights topics ranging from near death experiences to a theme park ride coined SCAD (Suspended Catch Air Device) sending people free-falling from ungodly heights somewhere in the middle of Texas, from drummers and their superhero sense of time to the great Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan and how he gathered intel from throughout his empire. However, though it does not directly deal with what I am attempting to say within this piece, again, it did invigorate me and by doing so provided me with more knowledge to attempt to piece together and to say. What stuck out to me the most, with this work-in-progress held within my mind, was the concept of time and how we perceive it in certain moments.
“One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala, he explained. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
Re-read that last line. Here it is again:
…The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
Though the piece at large and the quote above are speaking of time in terms of life-threatening scenarios, I believe this same phenomena could serve in our favor towards the awareness needed to acknowledge the moment by moment changes we are constantly subjected to, but also usually blinded to, and by doing so, lead us in the direction of better handling and experiencing the thing we all seem to fear the most; change.
“The best example of this is the so-called oddball effect—an optical illusion that Eagleman had shown me in his lab. It consisted of a series of simple images flashing on a computer screen. Most of the time, the same picture was repeated again and again: a plain brown shoe. But every so often a flower would appear instead. To my mind, the change was a matter of timing as well as of content: the flower would stay onscreen much longer than the shoe. But Eagleman insisted that all the pictures appeared for the same length of time. The only difference was the degree of attention that I paid to them. The shoe, by its third or fourth appearance, barely made an impression. The flower, more rare, lingered and blossomed, like those childhood summers.“
Re-read the bolded line above. Here it is again…
…The only difference was the degree of attention that I paid to them.”
Hell, read it one more time…
…The only difference was the degree of attention that I paid to them.”
I’m not going to attempt to speculate here, or to turn these words or these findings into something that they are not. I’m not looking for a far out connection here. Instead, I’m saying something that we may all already innately know, which the example above proves, but which we are too lazy or too tired, too distracted, too asleep or too dead to apply the energy or the will needed to experience life in a different more engaged, more aware, more understood and accepted way, to tap into our moment by moment existence as it is rather than what we believe or wish it to be.
Simply put, life requires our attention. The more unfamiliar we view our lives, the more information our brain writes down, and the more slowly time seems to pass.
But, how do we make our lives more unfamiliar?
Remind yourself constantly that you know nothing, then look around.
I just did this right now while writing and I already feel more emerged from my smug sense of knowing and engaged with the vast and unknown world around me.
Try it, now…
Did your perception change?
If you say no, you’re lying to yourself. Or, you’re just not aware. You’re not ready to be awake. You’re still asleep in the dream of knowing.
But how does this apply to change? What is it exactly I am trying to say?
I started this piece unknowing of where exactly I was to take it or where it would, in the typing of its words, take me. All I knew from the beginning is I wanted to view change as inevitable, or rather as infinitesimal, as occurring moment by moment despite our awareness of its activity. Having gone back and re-read each line, from beginning to end, I notice that I have attempted to fulfill this action by bouncing back and forth between thought and observation, thinking and simply looking. And, after having reached this point, what I believe at this moment is:
Time and change are indistinguishable. Inseparable rather. They are identical twins. I might reach to even say they are conjoined twins. Or, two deeply harmonized lovers, maybe. Whatever the correct analogy may be, either way, two separate phenomena, however entangled with each other and dependent upon one another for survival, for harmony and for continuance. They move together, running along the trail of eternity. Running isn’t right. Dancing I believe is. Running implies their movement to always proceed linearly. This has been disproven, both in time and in change. Both are plastic. Malleable to the forces, emotions if you will, of life. Running doesn’t explain this properly. Dancing does. Twirling, spinning, stomping, jumping, leaping, pacing, strutting, waltzing, stepping, toeing, etc. Their coexistence is a dance, a dance however which wouldn’t exist without their conjoining. Without time, change impedes. Without change, there is no marker for time. Time is tracked, noted and observed by the changing of things. Change is seen only in the passage of time. Given their conjoined coexistence, they are subjected to the same laws of nature, most notably our ability as a species to attend to the world around us, to provide attention to the workings of a mechanism. The soul of the universe (time, unknown, infinity, space, understanding, etc.) is in constant flux, infinitesimal change, and so to its body (matter, nature, inanimate objects, living creatures, us).
How can we experience this awareness?
The more attention we pay to the moment by moment account of our lives, the more detail our brain notices, and the slower time seems to pass.
So by relation,
The more attention we pay to the moment to moment changing of things, the more detail our brain notices, and the greater our understanding of change becomes.
Change, as it is, not what we believe or wish it to be.
…So hard to move on when you’re down in a hole,
Where there’s so little a chance to experience soul.”
— George Harrison, The Light That Has Lighted The World
I’ll probably revisit and revise this piece again someday. But for now, this will do.