Change can be uncomfortable. Discomfort comes when we attach to things we like and want them not to change. Change isn’t going to stop because we are uncomfortable. We can temporarily avoid discomfort by using distraction and numbness, or we can become comfortable with change. Tibetan Buddhism offers many methods for becoming comfortable with change. I will share what I learned from Rinpoche about one method, in hopes that it may help you as it is helping me.
Many Tibetan Buddhists think about their own impermanence several times per day, partly as practice for staying calm at death, and this practice also can help us accept change in every aspect of life. In this dissolution practice, one imagines that one’s body is made up of five elements. The element of earth gives our solidity. Water is our fluidity. Fire is energy and warmth. Air is breath and impulse. Space is the element where all changes play out. The dissolution practice involves the elements dissolving, one by one, until only a clear light of awareness remains. Then the body returns to normal with the elements returning in reverse order.
The first task is to become motivated to try this practice. We could think about the problems with our resistance to change and the benefits of trying something new. Resistance to change brings us suffering. Resistance makes our thinking rigid just in the moments when we need the most flexibility. We have already tried avoidance, and it doesn’t help when change is most evident. We may feel that we don’t know enough to try this. When you study with a Buddhist master, the master will give you fuller instruction. Still, even a little imperfect practice with this now may help us get comfortable with change. Trying this might set the stage for future improvements. Not trying can’t bring any benefits.
Calm your mind and slow your breathing. With earth dissolving, the body feels a sinking sensation. The world loses the appearance of solidity, seeming more like a mirage. With the water element dissolving, emotions lose their power, and smoke appears to the inner mind. With the fire element dissolving, there might be an image of sparks, and energy and thought reduces. The air element dissolves like a fluttering candle going out. Space dissolves in steps, with visions of white, red, and black, ending in a revealing of the clear light mind. Then the stages reverse as each element arises again. Space, air, fire, water, and earth return us to our ordinary bodies and minds.
Some people are able to watch these stages of dissolution as they fall asleep, and reverse as they wake up. On waking, clear light mind moves through the stages of space, then the air, fire, water, and earth elements return, ending with full presence in a balanced body state. At this point, it is wonderful to make an intention, for example: “Today, with this body, I will make efforts to do good things!”
This practice helps us lessen any rigid attachment to our bodies and also unhelpful resistance to change in other areas of our lives. Unbound from rigid attachment, we don’t waste our effort trying to combat change. We become free to use our minds and skills flexibly to solve the problems we encounter.
Buddhism, like most religions, emphasizes accepting what we can’t control while putting strong efforts into using every opportunity in this life to do good the best we can. I hope that this practice helps bring you increasing peace of mind, freeing your whole energy to improve yourself and the world.