Impermanence is a Process: A Daily Practice Can Help Process Change February 25, 2023 17:39
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I've been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. It's one thing to contemplate the idea of impermanence--to recognize and be aware of it in an intellectual sense--but it's quite a different practice to experience it--to feel the full weight of it when it pushes into your life and then leaves you, overwhelmed and confused.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Paula, called me in the evening. She was in a panic, and her voice wavered as she struggled to control it.
"I hope I'm not bothering you," she began.
I knew it was something serious--and she had no need to qualify her news or apologize.
"An ambulance just pulled into our driveway, and we're taking David to the hospital," she said.
I could hear and feel the uncertainty and concern in her voice. Her husband, who recently underwent major heart surgery, was having difficulty breathing and was experiencing severe pain.
My heart went out to both Paula and David. They had been through so much in the last few months. After a serious bout with COVID, David's health continued to deteriorate, leading to a heart valve replacement in December. He had been home for a couple of weeks, and his surgeon was happy with his recovery--until now.
Nothing is permanent. Nothing is fixed or lasts forever. We age, grow old, and die. No one is exempt.
Comprehending this on a superficial level and realizing it in a deep, real, and profound way are very different degrees of understanding.
I whispered, "Oh, honey--I'm so sorry. Please know that we are thinking of you."
I looked out the kitchen window and watched the ambulance's lights flashing in the darkness. We hung up, and I held onto the edge of the counter until the ambulance pulled out of their driveway. When my own breathing steadied, I took my seat and practiced, dedicating the merit of the practice to the both of them.
We don't realize how attached we are to this life...or to the people and things of this life...until we are confronted with the harsh reality of loss.
Our tendency to grip and cling to those we love becomes such a firmly ingrained habit. We don't even think about impermanence, until someone we love dies or leaves.
In The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana states, "When we do not cling, we do not suffer."
We cling out of habit. We expect those we love will always be there for us...with us. We take them for granted instead of taking responsibility for our own deluded state of mind.
"Life is as impermanent as a water bubble."
This is one of the lines that stands out to me in the Chenrezig sadhana. Every day, when I read this line, I pause to take it in.
Being responsible means knowing how to respond with skill, wisdom, and awareness.
Understanding impermanence is a process--sometimes we can prepare in advance for an upcoming change--like planning a wedding, a graduation party, or a move.
Sometimes, however, the changes occur suddenly--but they aren't necessarily unpleasant. My daughter's dog, Kevin, was a stray who literally jumped into her arms as she was stepping out of her car one evening. Kevin has been a source of joy for her and her husband ever since.
Pleasant changes and gradual changes are easier to manage, but the sudden, life-changing surprises can be like sucker punches to the gut.
The truth is, we're changing constantly. In our own bodies, on a cellular level, millions of cells die and many more replace them every day.
Today is Saturday--but I am not the same person that I was last Saturday. I may look the same, but on a cellular level, I am different--I have changed.
Change is a powerful teacher. It nudges us (sometimes gently, and sometimes forcefully) to pay attention, to be mindful of where we are, what we are thinking, doing, saying, and who's around us.
This moment will never come again--our next breath is not guaranteed--and the more we can appreciate and be present with what is, the more open we can be and more accepting we can be when changes inevitably come.
This is where a daily meditation practice really comes in handy. Daily practice can help prepare for and cope with loss and change.
Taking a few minutes each day to connect to my breath or to recite a few rounds of mantra with a mala can help prevent me from spiraling into worry or grief when the universe pulls the rug out from under me.
A daily practice also bolsters my courage. I have friends who avoid watching the news, for example. They can't handle it emotionally--it's too overwhelming and depressing for them.
Just this month, hearing stories about devastating events such as the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that resulted in hazardous chemicals seeping into the soil and water--polluting the air, and causing devastating effects for the residents and wildlife in the surrounding areas--this is suffering, this is painful, especially upon learning that accidents like this are totally preventable.
Sometimes, they can't be prevented. On an international level, the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks devastated parts of Syria and Turkey, killing more than 44,000 people and displacing more than five million from their destroyed homes.
Facing change and suffering is not easy--and ignoring it doesn't make it go away or make it easier to handle, either.
Change can be sudden...change can be devastating...Having the courage to face impermanence, and having the compassion to reach out to others who have been directly impacted, are crucial to recovery and healing.
Speaking of recovery and healing, I have some good news. David, our neighbor, was released from the hospital recently and is recovering at home. I stopped by a few days ago to deliver a vase of tulips and to offer to help with anything they may need. It was good to see them both smiling and happy.
Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. All changes aren't devastating. However, a daily meditation practice can help prepare for the uncertain and bolster the compassion and wisdom required for managing the aftermath, whether the changes are positive, negative, or neutral.
Daily practice offers solace, steadiness, and familiarity during ever-changing times. May your daily practice be of benefit to you...and may it help you to be a source of strength and support for others.
By the way, the Middle Moon Malas collection is also always changing. I have added several new one-of-a-kind malas and quarter malas to the online shop. If you would like a new mala to support your own practice, or if you'd like to give a beautiful mala to a friend or loved one, please visit middlemoonmalas.com.
(photo credit: Angelica Vaihel via Pixabay)