Growing Pains: The art of coping with change

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Part of having religiously experimental parents was having access to a bunch of interesting books as a kid. My parents’ shelves were full of fascinating stuff, from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and on and on.

One of my favourites was a story called The Mountains of Tibet, a children’s book in which an old woodcutter dies and, when reincarnated, is given the choice to start a new life however he wishes. This Tibetan-Buddhist idea of reincarnation, of old souls and babies choosing parents, has always stayed with me as a happy vision of the afterlife, despite my lack of interest in spirituality. The idea that you have a say in the course of your life and that your values determine what’s most important have helped inform my personal growth and the reasons behind this column.

Something else that I got out of those books was a Buddhist concept about coping with turbulence in your life. There’s a famous saying that ascribes all suffering in the world to resistance to change. In my short time on this planet, I’ve seen this come up again and again.

It’s something you see in kids all the time. Years ago, my little brother cried and sulked for days after we traded our white Volvo in for a newer, green one. But we adults do it, too; one of my most vivid memories is the sight of my mother crying over her lost garden as we moved out of our old house in East Van nearly nine years ago.

If you’ve ever sulked for weeks after a break up, or been choked because your favourite team traded a player, or had nearly any feeling of discomfort or frustration, chances are it had something to do with the fact that it disrupted your status quo. It might seem like an obvious thing to say: reducing situations to their most basic level makes them similar. But I think it’s surprisingly insightful.

Coping with change is like meditation. If you focus on not imagining an elephant, you won’t be able to keep it out of your mind. But if you let the concept enter your mind, and consider it without fixating on it, it will pass on by. You can’t beat grief or frustration by dwelling on them, but neither can you beat them by ignoring them. You feel those experiences, remember them and keep moving forward.

This is the time for change. Everything that makes waves in the tech industry is “disrupting” something. We, as Generation Y students, are changing the standards for what students and young adults are expected to do. This isn’t the era of simply coasting into the predestined job placements set for you by your degree, or of arranged marriages, or of rigid social rules.

Change is good for you. Change means new experiences, new challenges, new interests. Life is this great big opportunity to try new things and stretch your horizons. And being young makes this a great time for change — you have time to experiment, to take some risks and to learn to cope with failures along with successes.

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