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Accepting change

Life is unpredictable and impermanent, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing

09 October 2019, at 9:00am

Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “it is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” You and the life you lead are constantly changing. Nothing is permanent. This is one of the major teachings in Buddhism. If we can accept that everything in life is transient, then we can learn to “let go” of clinging to stable and predictable external sources for our happiness.

Because we feel more secure when we have a sense of predictability, we develop a great capacity for denying a simple truth: that nothing stays the same. Then the unpredictability of life shows us that even if we do everything “right” and exercise every precaution, we can still face unexpected loss.

When this happens, if we haven’t learnt that everything in life is impermanent, the shock of negative events can throw us into a cycle of sadness and depression from which it’s hard to emerge.

Your inability to avoid change may make you angry, sad and frustrated. It can be hard to let go of the false belief that the only way to achieve happiness again is to regain what’s been lost. Even when you know you can’t reverse the situation, you may agonise over this reality.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of this as we face adversity and when negative emotions overwhelm us. Most of us will experience profound grief when our loved ones die. Many of us will feel sadness, pain and anxiety over a breakup of a relationship, failure of an exam or loss of a job. Emotional pain and stress are inevitable when we lose a patient or cause a serious complication at work.

Considering these possibilities doesn’t have to be morbid or morose. It can be the impetus for change within us. There’s no denying that each of us will experience challenges to our well-being over which we have no control. If we are able to face these situations knowing that nothing is permanent, then we are more likely to appropriately handle and overcome them.

In reality, this is asking a lot of ourselves. We rely on some continuity in our lives and some predictability in order to be able to relax. If we can minimise our need for these certainties, we will be able to flow with life’s changes in a happier state of mind.

For managers, we should have enough empathy to realise that our employees are often resistant to change.

Yet, in the current climate, where every practice is being rebranded, bought by another practice or, in my case, being bought by a brand who was then bought by an even bigger brand in the space of six months, those who can’t handle change are lost.

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their practices. People fear that after the change, the practice will no longer be the practice they value and identify with. The higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the workplace identity they hold dear.

New leadership that emphasises what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

Counterintuitively, then, effective change leadership has to emphasise continuity: how what is central to “who we are” as an organisation will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.

At the same time, mental health well-being seminars for staff will support them through the changes and teach them to embrace the fact that impermanence doesn’t have to be feared. Just as negative events are impermanent, so are positive ones. Realising this is important to constructing a balanced perspective. Becoming aware of the impermanence of all situations can fuel one’s passion for relishing and mindfully appreciating the good moments of life.

Rather than viewing these situations as inevitable, one can begin to see them as the precious gifts that they are.

So, if the sun is shining and you have a great coffee in your hand, pause. Stop to appreciate how awesome that moment is. Breathe in that gorgeous weather and feel the sun’s heat penetrate your body. Admire, smell and really taste that coffee. Take a moment.

If your day is going well, embrace it. It won’t last. If you’re having a rubbish day, be aware of yourself. It won’t last.

Laura Woodward Counselling

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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