Embrace Change: ten leading Buddhist teachers and writers offer personal stories, teachings, and meditations to touch our hearts, open our minds, and help us embrace the change in our lives.
I recently read that only eight percent of the millions of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions actually stick with them. It’s certainly not easy to make positive changes in your life, but there are contemplative tools you can engage that can help.
If you want to create a change in your life, you can begin by clarifying your intention for doing so. Start by sitting up straight, taking a few minutes to check in with your body. Notice where you are tense and allow those muscles to relax. Once you are settled, turn your mind to the physical sensation of your breathing. Tune in to the natural flow of both your in-breath and your out-breath. After three or so minutes of this simple meditation, allow your mind to move on to contemplating “What is my motivation for change?”
You may feel some resistance to the idea of finding one set motivation. Notice that resistance; let it wash over you like a wave, and come back to the phrase just as you came back to the breath during the previous part of this meditative exercise.
Take a full five minutes to roll this simple question around in your mind. Then drop the phrase itself and just return to your breath, letting your mind ride on that natural reminder of the beauty of this present moment.
Are you surprised by what came up in these few minutes? I always am when I do this work. Sometimes my mind returns to a role model, someone who seems to embody the ideals I hold. Sometimes a certain quality that I have noticed about myself (or one that I wish to develop) comes up and 1 am left with a profound curiosity about what it would be like to live with that at the core of who I am.
As a result of this contemplation, you can discern what you would like your personal mandala to look like. The Sanskrit word mandala refers to concentric circles that form a type of organizational chart. In the center of a Buddhist mandala there is usually a central buddha, lineage figure, or deity, and around it are concentric circles that contain its emanations, its associates, and so on, to the point finally that all sentient beings are represented.
We all create such mandalas for ourselves, without necessarily realizing it. Whatever you take as your chief motivation is at the center. For example, if you put the classic American dream of “getting ahead in life” at the core of your mandala, then your life may revolve around a job you do not find real meaning in, accumulating all sorts of luxury items that eventually break, and finding a stereotypical “perfect” spouse who is, in fact, not perfect for you.
Conversely, if the motivation at the center of your mandala is that you want to be a kinder person, then the circle around it will include expressing kindness to your friends and family. Then it might expand to a wider circle that includes kindness at work, at social gatherings, or while traveling.
If you put kindness at the center of your mandala then you will build a lifestyle based on who you want to be, not what you want to acquire or do at work. Take my friend Taz Tagore, for example. Taz is a naturally generous and aware person. I believe that these qualities are at the core of her mandala, and that’s made her a strong mother, a wise entrepreneur, and cofounder of the Reciprocity Foundation, a foundation helping homeless youth in New York City. She has had a profound effect on hundreds of individuals through discerning the good qualities of generosity and kindness in herself and moving them to the center of her mandala.
What you would like your life to revolve around is up to you. Is it your career? A quality you want to cultivate? Meditation practice itself? For each of us, our core motivation for personal change will look different. That’s why it’s important to figure it out, and then intentionally develop a support structure, our own personal mandala, to make that resolution a success in our lives.