Intellectually, we all know that the one constant in the workplace – indeed in each moment of life – is change. We know that each moment is never quite the same as the one that precedes it. Yet, for many of us, change is a significant source of anxiety that limits our performance and our potential.
When change comes at us like a big wave in the ocean, we feel as though we might drown in the surf. Fortunately, we can actually train our minds to more effectively cope with change, and to even embrace change. We can learn to ride the waves of change just as a surfer would ride the beautiful wave above.
Embracing change in this way makes us significantly more effective in the workplace, and in life. The key is to transform our intellectual understanding of the constancy of change into wisdom. The evidence-based practice of mindfulness can help us do that.
The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom
There is, of course, a significant distinction between understanding something intellectually and actually having wisdom. The difference is simply a matter of experience. For instance, if Joe has never driven a car but has read 50 books on how to drive a car, we might call him an “expert.” Intellectually he understands every aspect of the task. However, he has no experience actually driving, so he lacks wisdom. Susan, on the other hand, has never read a book on how to drive a car, but she has been driving daily for 40 years. Susan has a tremendous amount of wisdom on the subject. If we needed a ride somewhere, we would surely choose Susan over Joe. Mindfulness allows us to develop wisdom about the truth of change by helping us to see change much more clearly, and thereby experience it viscerally versus only having an intellectual awareness of the fact that change has occurred.
Clarity of Awareness
The first step in the process is to train our awareness to be more stable. For most of us, it is very challenging to maintain present-moment awareness for more than a minute or so without being distracted by our thinking. Although change is always occurring, when our awareness is scattered, we fail to see the exact moment when one thing ends and another begins. For instance, we all know that our thoughts and emotions are always changing. However, we don’t see the exact instant when one thought ends and another begins, or when one emotion ends and another begins. Mindfulness practice involves making the effort to keep our awareness open to what’s happing in the present moment, without being pulled away by our thinking. Over time, awareness becomes much less scattered. As awareness becomes more collected, we start to clearly see things that many people never see.
The second step of the practice of mindfulness is to investigate reality. We make an effort to pay attention to the changes we experience in both our inner and outer worlds. With the more collected awareness that develops through mindfulness training, we are able to see moments of change with great clarity. We actually experience change deeply. This gives rise to wisdom. The more often we clearly see the cessation of things, and experience change deeply, the more we comfortable we become with the truth that nothing is stable for more than an instant. We see the absolute futility in trying to maintain things exactly as they are or have been. We are able to more easily let go of our fixed expectations and be open to the incredible opportunities that come along with change.