Change occurs naturally. It has always, and will always occur. The direction of change is something we can participate in, of course. At the same time, we cannot help BUT participate in change. There is no way we cannot become a part of the changes in the world around us.
Thus, how we participate in change is the only variable. Clearly, the change itself is not significant, because change will happen whether we are alive or dead; in fact, even if there were no humanity, the world would still change. It has been doing so for five billion years, according to the scientists, and will continue until it changes into something else entirely.
To my thinking, this underscores the fact that change is not significant. In fact, change is free; change is unavoidable. Change is a natural condition that results from the passage of time.
So for us to desire change is to desire what we already have. Some will say, then, that we must desire a particular kind of change. But given our limited ability to conceive the limitless interconnections between things, how can our minds truly architect the kinds of changes we want? Even after ten minutes, so many billions of lives have interacted, that we can never predict the outcome of what we do.
This is much like prayer. In many prayers, people pray for two things: 1) what they want, and 2) how they want it. Praying for the first is understandable and expected. God will answer every urgent prayer. But the world is complicated by nearly infinite interactions, and only God understands how they fit together. Only He has a mind qualified to conceive an answer to 2. When we pray for our desires to be achieved a certain way, we almost certainly never get what we asked for, even if 1 is answered!
Desiring change in the world is very similar. When we say, “we want world peace”, we often envision what this will look or feel like. Example: Muslims prayed for hundreds of years for the Mihdí. God answered them. The Muslims killed the Mihdí.
Our own life is a microcosm of movements at large in the world. We are praying for our own Mihdí, usually in the form of wishing for a certain change in the world. But at the same time, we desire this change to take a certain shape, flavor, or course; maybe a certain speed, manner, or approach. And when the desired change arrives, it’s never exactly what we desired.
Look at people who want a certain wife, husband or career. The number of truly happy people that I know is zero. All of them complain in some way about the next set of changes they want. Even those who have accomplished what they set out to do! Because at the moment of accomplishment, it’s never exactly what they envisioned.
Why do I bring this up? First: to say that change itself has no merit. It’s everywhere, as free as the wind. Second: intending to direct change is impossible, due to our finite nature. Third: hoping for a particular outcome of change is impossible, since we cannot anticipate the unknown.
And yet, change is a necessary, fruitful part of life. This all leads me to one conclusion: the focus of our life should be something other than change! This means living intensely in the present.
Lest someone suggest that this attitude precludes effective change, I will ask, what does it mean to live in the present?
If I am living in the present, I am acutely aware of my current circumstances, and what is around me. If cricket is trapped indoors, I see it, feel its pain echoed in my own heart, and release it. Not because I desire a different world, one in which the cricket does not suffer; but because his suffering is my suffering, and so I respond naturally, much as I might have scratched an itch.
If I meet someone starving for love, do I give them love to change their unloved state of being? Do I hate their unloved state so much that I must destroy it, to create a loved state? After all, God’s creation, at that moment, included an unloved individual. Whatever the past may have been, it is natural that right now this person is experiencing no love. Therefore, it is what it is.
Perceiving this, I feel a natural desire to respond to their need. Their need is my need, since we are both human, both creatures of God, both hungry for love. I offer them love not because they need it, but because the situation brings it forth from me. Loving the present, the shape of my love flows to fit the needs of the moment, and at this particular moment, the response is one of caring. At other times, it may be appreciation, excitement, respect, etc.
Change will always happen; but seeking change is empty. Merely by allowing my own being to exist naturally, positive change will occur around me. It cannot happen otherwise. If you poke me, I will exclaim. If I see suffering, I’ll desire to undo it. If I hear a question, I’ll want to answer it. Not because of a certain future I wish to uncover, but because your question is my question; we are both walking on the same path.
Then, there is change for the sake of change, and change that is the natural outcome of responding to one’s circumstances. Is it an invasion to be myself? If so, then everything is an invasion: time, the sun’s light, everything. An invasion is when a foreign element seeks to enter something unnaturally. Like when I want to create love as a response to hate, without love being the origin of my motive. It’s like trying to force a pill down the throat of the present, in order to win a better future. This is fruitless, hopeless.
Also, the present is perfect as it is. We will always exist in the present. This is where our trials occur, our joys, our opportunity for perceiving the divine. When people describe it as “immature”, or “undeveloped”, I think to myself: people will always see it that way. In a thousand years, people will still castigate the present the way we do now. People were doing this a thousand years ago. The present never seems perfect to us. Always, always, always, people look to the future for fulfillment. Either in their life, their job, their spirituality, whatever.
That’s the flaw. Civilization is not going to become perfect, or better. Because no matter how long we wait, “better” keeps getting redefined at every stage. Compared to half a million years ago, we are the ultimate society! So why aren’t we all dancing and having parties? Because comparative judgment suffers from the flaw of arbitrary selection: you can pick whatever view of the present you wish, depending on whether you look forward or backward. People who do this will continue to do this. The present will always appear the same in a relative way. Its details may alter, but it remains essentially the same to the person who looks at it.
The only way to break this cycle is to fundamentally alter our relationship to the present. Not to the past or the future, but the present. Change is bound up in time, and does not exist in the present. Neither does love or light exist in the past or future. Love is our spirit’s response to the world we see before us – period. We don’t become more loving by waiting for better circumstances.
Let me reword that last point: Change happens in time, but love happens outside of time. Therefore, love occurs before change. Change cannot bring about love. If we love, change will happen from that love; if we hate, change will happen from that hate. Change itself is ambivalent, universal, impersonal.
To create true change, then, we must love the present that we see before us. This present is perfect, and without flaw; only our perceptions make us think otherwise. And if we love the present unreservedly wonderful changes will flow naturally from that love. Not as an invasion, but as a mystic dance in partner with everything around us.
Accepting the present is the hardest thing, because it doesn’t happen in the mind or heart. Only spiritual change can affect the way we view the present; only eyes of faith can see beyond what is apparent, and perceive the mystic unity of opposites that our body’s eyes can never see.
So, how do I love existence? To me, that is most fundamental of all questions. Here I am, one who has listened to religion. Religion tells me: love all that is. I ask it right back: how do I love all that is? Because from this, every other thing precedes. If I love all things, there is nothing that will not solve itself in time. If people loved all things, war would be impossible; social inequality would be impossible, prejudice would be impossible. The world’s transformation occurs when people learn to love, which is the purpose of religion.
If this is religion’s purpose, then maybe religion is necessary for it to occur. If a philosophy, drug, or experience could make me love all things, it would be the easiest thing to do. My mind works well enough to read any book in time; I could easily swallow a drug, or seek an experience.
But love is the hardest thing, the most basic thing, and yet somehow the easiest thing. Because the possibility of accomplishing it is in the present. It’s always right here. There’s no book I need to read, or experience I need to have. All of the ingredients are right here, right now. Time is not required for such a change, nor wealth nor ability nor circumstance. Somehow, I exist “but one step away”. “Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.”
Then the answer must be something marvelous, glorious – beyond time and space and future and change and argument. Something that requires only a timeless moment of realization. A call to God, a moment of quiet, a single effort – who knows what will burn up the veil?
What I am certain of is this: if my energy is bled away seeking a change whose ramifications I could never master, which would more likely than not cause more sorrow than joy, then I will have no heart left to seek this ineffable path. The desire for change is the beginning of all suffering, says Buddhism. To be freed from this desire causes the heart to awaken, and when it does, the love proceeding from this realization washes over everything around you.