Change & The Now: The Philosophy of Change
Oh September! A month full of hopeful aspirations for the future, budding plans and exciting opportunities, a new college term, fresh faces, a renewed energy and bustle of sorts, a new lick of paint as we mentally prepare ourselves for the term ahead. Yet for many, September signals the arrival of new stresses, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer pace of life, heaps of work and a renewed social life to match. Certainly, for new students at UCD being thrust into a place of this scale, often far away from home, alongside everyday adulting can be difficult, frustrating and even make us frightened of what the future holds. When we hear the word “change” our minds rush in every direction, some towards getting older, moving to a new house, a new school or college, making new friends or getting fitter. Sometimes on a more external scale towards social activism and the immense changes in our planet’s climate. The question that arises from this however is how do we confront the outcomes of change in our lives and deal with our fear of the future?
Since philosophy’s earliest instances scholars have tried to wrap their heads around everything from the changing seasons, night, day, the movement of the planets, life, death and the growth and collapse of entire states and peoples through disease or war. While we may not deal with these subjects in exactly the same way as our philosophical predecessors, in our equally as complex life and times I believe it to be beneficial in some ways to glance back to our old friends, the Pre-Socratic Greek scholars. The world of the ancient Greeks was conflicted, violent, superstitious and often quite short. As Bertrand Russel states; [the Greeks] “were passionate, unhappy, at war with themselves, driven along one road by the intellect and along another by the passions.” In the face of a constantly changing socio-political environment, and a physical world veiled in superstition and mystery the Pre-Socratics inquired and theorised into the nature of our world on an admirable scale, eventually being classed by future generations as the first philosophers. One such man was Heraclitus of Ephesus, who attempted to deal with the very nature of change, albeit cryptically.
Heraclitus is considered most notably in philosophy as the scholar of flux, second to his strange death involving lathering himself in cow manure to fight off dropsy, imagine doing that to fight a post-session hangover? Yet in relation to change, Heraclitus compared existing things to the mighty flow of a river, whereby in his view we cannot set foot in the same river twice due to the fact that the current will always pull the water onwards away from our cold feet sinking into the sand. He also extends this theory to social relations in which we can’t even truly encounter the same human being twice, as they are technically older even though they may physically look the same. In discussing Heraclitus, the philosopher David Hume comments that, “a river is a remarkable kind of existent, one that remains what it is by changing what it contains.” This view can uniquely be applied to modern times, as our social and personal lives along with our physical selves go through significant change over time but still remain our human lives and physical being. Life is always life, because it constantly changes.
We can grasp constant change as intrinsically part of life, even the foundation of the modern human experience, but the question remains in how to deal with or accept our fear of change in the future. On this end of things, we should glance further east towards ancient China. The philosophy attributed to the semi-mythological figure Lao Tzu incorporates similar terms surrounding flux and change. At the core of Lao Tzu’s Taoist tradition lies the “Wu Wei” or “flowing” which describes a state of harmony with the natural world and an acceptance of the ever-changing nature of life that every human inevitably faces in order to fully grasp the “Dao” or the “way of life.” In order to do this, Lao Tzu claims that in simple terms we must let go for a little while, make your mind still and purposefully appreciate the little things in life. Taoists and Buddhists attempt to achieve this through meditation and sacred pilgrimages, but it can be used far more modestly within our current setting through the appreciation of the now. In a similar way to the natural world, we mustn’t rush ourselves but take our sweet time to be present. We should on occasion postpone hectic timetables, dates with friends, college stress, your job and for example appreciate a nice coffee in the morning, a nice sunrise, the voice of a loved one or a comforting embrace.
Accepting change as just another part of life’s course may make those towering bridges to cross in the future a little less tall and far more manageable. Starting college again, my advice to any first year feeling sort of lost, overwhelmed or anxious about their future at UCD, (we’ve all been there) to attend that society event, talk to the person beside you in a lecture, do that audition or pick up that sport. Because when we try to live within the now more often, we can finally place things in perspective and can possibly see the beauty and pleasure in even a little moment before it’s eventually washed away by the ever-present winds of change.
Aaron Collier – Philosophy Columnist