To embrace impermanence in this chaotic world

One of my clients sufferred from cancer one year ago.  She used to be very healthy and had regular routine for exercising before the diagnosis.  With healthy life style and stable career without much work stress, it is out of expectation for her to suffer from cancer at late forties.  The treatment process was traumatic for her as she sufferred from a variety of side effects and physical weaknesses.  Her weight was significantly reduced and physical condition was worsen.  After treatment for many months, it was confirmed that her cancer was in remission and she could resume work and normal life.  However, she had difficulty to adjust for her new life after the remission of her cancer.  She also felt depressed because she thought herself was broken and defective due to the cancer.  She also felt shameful for not being able to resume the rich and active life she used to have before.  Furthermore, even going for a follow up session with the oncologist is anxiety-provoking for her.  In fact, it is beyond dispute that she is not the same her after the cancer and she could not turn back the clock to resume living her previous lifesstyle.  How could she adjust to this new “self” with acceptance and peace?  How could she still live a life with pleasure and content?

In my clinical practice, it is common to see my clients trying very hard to defend themselves against facing inevitable changes or sufferings in their lives.  Some of my clients went to many medical check ups and doctor consultations whenever they suffer from any random minor physical symptoms.  They also tried to make sure they had healthy diet and regular exercises.  The striving for a very healthy lifestyle and frequent medical consultations indeed exacerbated their anxiety level and causing them even more minor physical symptoms.  Another group of people tried very hard to make sure they have the perfect body built and lifestyle.  They would frequently post their photos to show others that they look good and healthy.  They might also publish their exercising routine daily to showcase their meticulously healthy lifestyle.  These people are trying very hard to create mental structures and defences so that they do not need to think about the impermanence of life.  They try very hard to reassure themselves of their illusion of “permanence” by creating a sense of enduring identity.

Whenever people face loses in different aspects of their lives, such as work, family, or health, they are confronted by impermanence.  These life crises actually brought us to the reality of our world and our lives being unpredictable and impermanent.  The fact is that we have not much control in our lives.  We also find that our strategies to try to gain control is ineffective given the many uncontrollable contributing factors to our lives.  In fact, our self-imposed view on our enduring identity is an illusion only because we wanted to feel in control in our lives.  In Buddhist psychology, it is important for us to let go of our self-investment in creating a illusion of an enduring self.  To face our losses, we need to accept that our creation of an enduring self is only an illusion.  When we learn to go with the flow in our journey of life, we will be open to the miracle of being alive and to live in the present moment.

No matter what losses or changes we are facing nowadays, we need to be able to embrace all the emotions associated with the sudden losses or changes.  These emotions might include sadness, anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, etc.  We need to allow our emotions to flow but at the same time to be overwhelmed by these emotions.  We can let these feelings arise but we should not let these feelings to push us to some behaviors that making us escape from these emotions or create an illusion of an enduring self.  For example, for my client who had just recovered from cancer, she needs to embrace the anxiety of her resuming to her workplace after long sick leave.  She also need to accept the change in her physical condition after the cancer treatment and not grasping to an enduring self of having a perfect physical fitness.

It is inevitable that we will face losses and changes in our lives, it is important that we learn how to go with the flow and live in the present moment.  We need to see ourselves with a flexible identity so that we can embrace the impermance of our “self” and our lives.

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