“Moving doesn’t change who you are. It only changes the view outside your window.”
I think it would be difficult to find a credible scientist, psychologist, or philosopher who says that change is bad. As much as change can be uncomfortable, most of us recognize it as not only necessary or unavoidable, but beneficial.
The biggest problem with change is that we tend to be really bad at it. Sometimes, we’re obsessed with it. Sometimes, we resist it with all of our being. Sometimes we just plain suck at navigating it. Sometimes, we give ourselves to the process but misunderstand what the process requires.
That last bit is what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
I think anyone who is familiar with my work knows that I’m a person who works really hard to employ as many positive changes as possible. Of course, anyone who is familiar with my work will also know that I get things wrong a lot of the time. I’m a philosophical, introspective thinker but I’m no guru!
When I deconverted from Christianity, I embraced Buddhism. At least I embraced my own understanding of Buddhism.
I was first exposed through a number of quotes I’d read by the Dalai Lama. This guy really seemed to have a handle on things. Like most inspirational figures, he presented an example that I desperately wanted to emulate. For a short while, I think I did a reasonably good job of this.
It didn’t take long for me to start messing up really badly though. At the time, I didn’t understand where I was going wrong. In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious…
I got to a point where it wasn’t enough to be influenced by a figure that I admired and respected. I wanted to dig into what influenced him. Instead of being open-minded enough to realize that no person should be reduced to a simple formula — especially a person that I didn’t really know, I drew the conclusion that his Buddhism was the only relevant factor.
While that may have been true, I lacked a basic understanding of what Buddhism actually is. The approach I took was to study the Pali Canon in the same way I’d studied the Bible for so many years. I looked for rules to follow, rewards and consequences for my adherence to the rules, and moral absolutes that would shape my view of the world around me.
Effectively, I had kept the formula but swapped in different information. In doing so, I found the same emptiness in Buddhism that I’d found in my past faith. While it felt like I had massively overhauled my belief system, I had actually just shaken it up a bit. Once the dust settled, everything was basically as it had been before the shake-up.
Obviously I’d missed something here.
What I realized is that, if I want to employ meaningful changes, I have to start with changes to my basic approach, my formula.
When I went back to studying Buddhism with a fresh perspective, I was able to understand that the Buddha did not present himself as a leader. He did not want followers. He was not trying to start a dogmatic religion. Rather, he presented himself as a spokesperson for a different way of thinking. A way that encouraged people to consider their words and actions, and how these influenced their community, their environment, and even themselves.
This allowed me to understand that a guide to my own existence could not be found in the pages of a book. That the only person qualified to determine which changes I need to make is me. Moreover, the only person who can figure out which steps to take, or which formulas to employ is me.
Yes, change is good, but real change can’t happen unless we’re willing to challenge not only the things we think we’re doing wrong, but also the things we think we’re doing right. It’s not enough to change the view outside the window. We have to change what is inside.
To hear the podcast version of this (and other) stories, visit www.acfischerpod.com