Responding to Change With Compassion

Change is the only constant in life. It’s an unpredictable, non-discriminating energy that can at various times be likened to a slow trickle, or a raging storm.

Small changes occur in our lives almost daily, and we adapt to them quite well. We compromise, make a mental shift or just go with the flow; and over time, almost without noticing, we become conscious that we’re facing a different direction. We can only see the change by comparing where we are now to where we were then.

Conversely, change can also come raging into our lives like a perfect storm, pulling the rug out from under our feet as the bottom falls out of our expectations. It shakes the very foundation of our carefully constructed beliefs and reveals that the world is not as we perceived it to be. We experience primal fears of abandonment, separation and insecurity.

The gripping fear that we may experience in times of change is generated in a deep brain structure called the amygdala (pronounced “uh-MIG-duh-luh”). Part of the limbic system, the amygdala stimulates the fight-or-flight response. Its central nucleus is correlated with the brainstem and hypothalamus, two other areas associated with fear and anxiety.

The amygdala also plays a primary role in processing emotional reactions, decision-making and memory. This area is thought to be responsible for nightmares and disrupted sleep during stressful periods in our lives.

So fear of change and the emotions that surface are a result of primal survival impulses encoded into every brain. Untamed, the mind indulges in cyclic thought patterns, perpetuating waves of anxiety and fear.

If change is the only constant, then we can “change” the way we react and deal with change itself. Even the amygdala’s reactionary impulses can be moderated through the practice of compassion meditation. Research has shown that even novice meditators can decrease activation of the amygdala by measurable amounts after only eight weeks of practice.

In all chaos, there is the potential for growth and new beginnings — indeed, for a complete remodel of life as we know it. We have to be prepared to put in the effort, to sit with all the different sensations as they arise, and “be curious,” as my meditation teacher often reminds me.

Look for new meditation classes appearing on the Yoga Nook schedule in January 2017.

 

Image credit: Send me adrift via Flickr (CC)