Impermanence is a Process: A Daily Practice Can Help Process Change February 25, 2023 17:39
If you prefer to listen to this month's article, please click HERE for the audio link.
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)
Meditation Is Great and All...But Meaningful Action Is Required for Meaningful Change May 31, 2022 14:46
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
The news has been especially dismal lately. The war in Ukraine is still raging, as are the wild fires in New Mexico. Between the shortage of baby formula due to a recall and supply chain backlog, a hate-filled gunman who murdered ten people in a Buffalo, NY grocery store, and another gunman who murdered nineteen fourth graders and two teachers in a horrific school shooting in Uvalde, TX, it has been one hell of a week!
There's certainly plenty to be sad and angry about--and plenty of my friends are fired up and venting their frustrations on social media.
Some are sharing celebrity tweets and memes. Others are link-dumping news articles. A few, who proudly announce that they don't watch the news, prefer to post vague, judgey commentary about how awful the world is...and how much better off they are by not paying attention to it.
Don't get me wrong--taking in too much negative news stories--or watching the same distressing stories on repeat can be extremely dysregulating and unhealthy. It's too easy to slip into despair and hopelessness while marinating in bad news.
On the other hand, refusing to watch any credible news at all is willful ignorance, which is just as problematic. Ignoring significant world events won't make them go away, and it won't make anyone more spiritual or superior, either. Unfortunately, it can indicate righteous selfishness and privilege on parade.
There has to be a better way... for all of us!!
Last month, I wrote about the benefits of sitting with unpleasant emotions, and I still believe that this is a good first step. However, meditation alone isn't enough to solve big problems like war, systemic racism, poverty, and gun violence.
Big problems like these can be extremely overwhelming and daunting; they can give rise to feelings of hopelessness, despair, and apathy.
Big problems can't be solved quickly, either, and they can't be solved by a single person or even a single group of people. Often, they require time and the persistent, patient focus and effort of many. The good news is, we can all contribute to meaningful progress and positive change.
Small steps matter. Small gestures matter. Every thought and action has consequences and creates a ripple effect. Even small acts of compassion can have a significant impact on others. By doing what we can, when we can, wherever we are, we pave the way for meaningful progress.
For example, I have a friend in Minnesota who spent several hours the other day planting beautiful flowers in her garden. She spent her morning planting lilies, marigolds, and roses. She can't stop the destruction in Ukraine, or the wild fires in New Mexico, but she is tending to what she can, where she is. By doing so, she is fostering beauty and joy in her own back yard, and this doesn't just benefit her and her family; it uplifts her entire neighborhood.
One of the students I have been tutoring this semester volunteers regularly at a local food bank. He can't solve the supply chain backlog or prevent product recalls, but he can stock shelves with donated food and dedicate his time and effort to help local families put food on their tables.
My friend in Ohio can't solve systemic racism on her own, but she recently posted an honest acknowledgment of her own white privilege--how she has benefited from racism, is deeply ashamed of this, but now that she's aware of it, she is committed to using her privilege to bring about positive change in society. She posts book reviews and recommendations of books written by black authors and books that address the issue of racial injustice. She's educating herself and sharing what she's learning with others to foster awareness and promote progress.
I may not be able to solve the gun violence crisis in America--and won't be able to prevent the next horrific school shooting, but I did contact the senators in my state (Indiana) and communicated to them how important common sense gun laws, red flag laws, and stringent background checks are (along with banning assault rifles). After I sent the emails, I felt a little relief afterwards--I did SOMETHING. I didn't give up, and I didn't turn away. I'm also looking into supporting local advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action.
Recently, I participated in an online Metta vigil led by Sharon Salzberg from the Insight Meditation Society.
She explained that hopelessness is extremely dangerous--and that practicing Metta is meaningful action and a powerful adventure in attention.
Over 900 participants joined her in this online practice. It was an excellent session, and a beautiful meditation.
(I've written about the practice of Metta recently. If you haven't already read or listened to the September blog article: Estrangement and the Power of Metta, it describes this practice in greater detail and includes a short practice as well.)
We don't have to don a superhero's cape to make a difference in this world. Start where you are, and do what you can with what you know. Acts of kindness and generosity don't have to be dramatic, remarkable, or far-reaching to have an impact.
The more we can be of help and be of service to others, the positive ripples of change will continue to expand and benefit more and more beings. Meaningful change begins with simple, heartfelt action as well as having the courage to face and be present with what is. After all, during these challenging times, we cannot afford to give up or to turn away.
Thanks for reading or listening this month. If you haven't visited the Middle Moon Malas online shop in a while, I have added several new designs to the website.
May you be happy; may you be healthy; may you be safe; may you live with ease.
(Photo credit: Ross Findon courtesy of Unsplash)
Resolve and Dissolve: Setting Intentions and Managing Changes in 2017 January 2, 2017 20:02
Yep--it's that time of year again. It's the start of a new year, which brings change, new beginnings, and the hope of a brighter future. The ball drops, fireworks bloom in the night sky, champagne, kisses--the works.
Most changes occur slowly, which is good. It makes them easier to process. However, managing change--even small ones--can seem daunting at first. I like setting intentions at the start of a new year. It's not unlike embarking on a mantra practice, or designing a mala. The following tips help me stay clear and focused, and they help me navigate my way through change in order to grow.
*Don't Focus on the Whole...Focus on the Individual Pieces
Managing fresh starts and new patterns requires patience, practice, and time. At first, the project, goal, or intention may seem overwhelming. When I'm designing a mala, for instance, I arrange the beads one at a time. When the layout is complete, and the stringing begins, all that matters is this bead, this loop, this knot. One, by one, until the design is complete. It's that simple. I don't worry about how many beads I can string in an hour--or when I'll be finished. Focusing on the individual pieces is like appreciating each step on a journey rather than fixating on arriving at the destination. Focusing on what's right in front of me keeps me rooted in the present, and it allows me to enjoy and appreciate the adventure, no matter how long it takes, or if it's completed at all.
* Offer a Dedication
Purpose helps to add meaning to any task, even mundane ones. Usually, I practice japa in the evening. I'm more relaxed, and I generally have more time to devote to the practice. Sometimes, however, I wait too long--I'm tired, impatient, and just want it to be over, so I can go to bed. Chanting a mantra just to recite it 108 times is a waste of time and energy. Offering a dedication to the practice adds sincerity, significance, and motivation. For example, before I practice, I hold my mala in my hands and offer an intention--that my students will do well on their final exams--or, I dedicate my practice to a friend who is dealing with the loss of a parent--or to a friend who is giving birth to her first child. I may offer peace and healing to strangers who are suffering in a city halfway around the world. By doing this, I'm not just practicing for myself--I'm practicing to benefit others as well. Big or small, offering a dedication can bolster motivation and infuse any resolution with purpose and meaning.
* Seek a Fresh Perspective
I like variety, I like having options, and a change of scenery can do wonders for a resolution or intention that's reached a plateau or grown a little stale. Sometimes I like to work on a mala at the kitchen table. I like the lighting and the view from the window. Sometimes, I prefer to work upstairs (we have more channel options on the TV), so I can string beads and watch a movie. (One of my favorite designs was an Unakite mala that I strung while watching the Bollywood classic, Bride and Prejudice :). If the weather's nice, I can work outside at the patio table and listen to birds, cicadas, children laughing in the neighbor's yard. A change of setting can offer much needed inspiration, a change in perspective, or a boost in creativity.
I'm not sure where 2017 will lead, but my intention is to continue to learn,grow, and navigate the changes and surprises that this year will undoubtedly bring by continuing my japa practice, and to enjoy creating beautiful malas for others. Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy this year's journey.