I recently heard a Dharma talk in which the teacher summed up what he felt was the most important Buddhist teaching: change is the constant.
I don’t know about you, but I can feel my body tighten and tense when I consider this reality. I can intellectually grasp it but feeling it is another story. As along with constant change comes uncertainty and the unknown. We are wired as humans to long for and desire to know what is next. It is actually built into our brain and it is what separates us as humans from primates. When faced with the unknown and not knowing what is next we tense, and fear and anxiety arise in our bodies and minds.
Wrestling with change and the unknown is one of the greatest obstacles when someone is recovering from an eating disorder. Fear of change of body and self create obstacles to moving forward. I often hear my clients say, “but I don’t know what’s next. At least I know this.” This can apply to all areas in life, not just recovery. We have all been faced with transitions and the fear of going forward because of the unknown.
When I am faced with fear of change I turn to what I know best soothes me, self-compassion. Self-compassion soothes the unknown. It softens fear by responding directly to it. The following practice can be used when you feel you are in a frozen place due to fear of change and the unknown:
1) Name it to tame it!– You may have heard this before. I say it often. When fear is present, rather than avoid it, name it. Say, “I am afraid.” “I am scared.”
2) Find it in your body and release- Our neuromuscular system directly responds and reacts to fear. Find the areas of tension in your body. Gently massage them at the same time as labeling it for what it is. Such as: “It’s okay to let go. You are just scared.”
3) Compassion and more compassion- Now is not the time to berate yourself for feeling stuck and afraid to change. Instead, gently understand that you are just trying to protect yourself from what you don’t yet know. Say the following: “I am only trying to understand and know what is next.” “I can allow myself to not know what I do not yet know.” “I can take a breath to soften and soothe the fear.”
And since we are on the subject of the unknown, I am venturing off this month to India! I will be embarking on a Buddhist pilgrimage where I will discover the path of the Buddha and his teachings from birth, to where he reached enlightenment, and to where he is buried. March’s newsletter will come a little later in the month after I return. I am sure I will have a lot to share!