The philosophical problem of change

There are no guarantees in life except for death and taxes, or so old the saw goes. But in reality there is but one universal human truth: change. Impermanence. Fluidity. Nothing is forever. Nothing. Not even forever is forever. It’s the primary tenant of humanity. If you want to be happy, content, okay, satisfied, then you have to believe that everything is temporary. Really believe it. Even happiness. Especially happiness. But also pain. And hurt. It is the primary tenet, but it is one humans fail collectively at believing. To a person, we all assume that whatever we are experiencing right now, is what we will only and always experience.

The practice of yoga was developed in northern India over 5,000 years ago. Throughout those five thousand years, it has tried with all its might to teach humans the value of now, and the inevitability of change. You are in a pose, and you are struggling, it is difficult, but it will end. Now take that knowledge, and apply it to your every day. And for 5,000 years humans have listened to that teaching, and the vast majority of us have ignored it. Damning ourselves to unhappiness, discontent, and the belief that the pain we are experiencing will last forever and forever. It is a hallmark of depression; it is the hallmark of my depression. I am writing this today at a coffeeshop. My house just went on the market yesterday and it already has an offer. I have the day off. Just writing and reading and no work. But while I know the contentment I feel right now won’t last, I also wholeheartedly believe that the sadness I feel — the dark colors that run behind my eyes every minute of every day — will be with me until the day I die. This is not abnormal. Every human experiences this. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

A few days ago i wrote about one of cricket’s many gifts, that it reminds us that the world always changes, no matter how we might not believe it at the time. A few weeks before that, however, I wrote about how cricket is consistent, that while it changes, its changes are slower, less noticeable. Players play their whole careers for one country, one team, in one uniform, for decades. How to marry those two disparate ideas? And take comfort in them simultaneously? Is that even possible? Am I running in circles, chasing my tail? These are the questions that matter. How to take comfort in something that doesn’t change while also remembering that life is only change.

Enter cricket once again.

Cricket is an old game, with old traditions, and old grounds, and old teams, played in some of the world’s oldest countries. It is also a modern game. With statisticians and nutritionists and new formats designed for the digital age. And the styles are different. Today it slogs and groans away the overs, while before it tiptoed through them, a walk in a field, a day in the park, interrupted by only the occasional intense heat of the perfect cover drive.

And so there it is, right? Consistency meets change, and vice versa. Becoming one. Showing us that life is change, but also the same. So enjoy the now, but bear in mind that it is not forever.

Now, however, enter the cricket fan.

The changes the game is experiencing are for many of us hard to swallow. The destruction of the game’s longest format, the Hundred, the slog worship. It’s change but too much change. Every day we wake up and load up Cricinfo and are confronted with the reality that everything we enjoy about cricket is slowly drifting away from us. Into the awful ether of change. How can we start to accept change and find joy in change and be reminded that nothing even our struggles are permanent if the change before us is so detestable?

The question answers itself.

Nothing is permanent. Not the Hundred. Not the Test. Not the County Championship. Not the latest T20 Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em franchise league. Everything we dislike — and like — about cricket, and about life, will one day go away. That’s the promise of time, of life, of humanity. And so where is the comfort in that? The comfort is not for those not struggling, and that’s the rub of all of this. If you are okay, then change is difficult. If you are not, then change is all you desire. I take comfort in cricket’s change, even though I dislike those changes. And I also take comfort that the old traditions and styles and formats are still around, and in some cases still thriving.

I say that, but I don’t believe it.

All of us are lost. Lost in the haze of time and change and life and all of it passing us by. Cricket can’t fix that. Yoga can’t fix that. Religion can’t fix that. Meditation can’t fix that. Humans are doomed to the very first sentences of this post: we know happiness isn’t forever, but can’t believe the same idea about struggle.

So, where are we then?

We are at a coffeeshop. And it’s winter but not too cold. The coffee is good and there’s plenty of it. There is sadness but it’s not overwhelming. There are cricket highlights to watch. A green field at the bottom of the world. There is the now. And only the now. Now is this moment, where it’s okay but still hard. All we have is the now. That’s comprehensible. The now. And here is cricket’s lesson:

Every ball is an island, every delivery the only delivery that matters, everything is the now, nothing else exists. Each ball is a reminder that what we have is what we have, this second, this very second, this blissful wicked second, before it passes again, and into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, a bit of banter, a rub of the ball on pant leg, a walk to the bowler’s mark, and then a run up, and the now begins again. Again, and again, and again. Cricket brings the now every few seconds. One ball, one bat, two people, experiencing the now like we all hope we could. It’s all we have. This moment. It’s gone in an instant. Maybe a cover drive, maybe a bad ball and a worse shot, maybe a wide, maybe just an unremarkable delivery to an unremarkable batsman on an unremarkable morning. Life, happening. Tomorrow is change. Too much or not enough or not what we wanted. But that’s later. Here is this moment. Enjoy it. And then move on to the next. See what it brings. And then move on again.

Life is change. Happiness is contentment. Struggles are not permanent. And the now is a place existing outside of all of that, when we can just breathe. One breath. Inhale, exhale, run up, into the gloves, and do it again. Erasing the past. Never minding the future. All that matters is the ball being delivered, and the breath being taken.

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