Sitting with Impermanence

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Thursday Evening Online Program
February 3, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This winter, I often have found myself dwelling on loss and change, pining for a return to the way my life was before the pandemic. I miss the ease with which I could gather with friends and acquaintances. I miss meditating together in person. I miss the casual conversations in hallways or near water coolers. I miss the feeling of certainty that next week or next month would be much like today – an expectation of stability that made it easily plan to for the future.

I’m keenly aware of my on-going struggle with impermanence. Most recently, it was magnified by the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, which came so close to the loss of others who have touched my life, including Desmond Tutu, bell hooks, and Sidney Poitier.

The other day, as I sat in my office fantasizing about the way things used to be, I was brought back to the moment by a feeling of warmth on my skin from the sun shinning through the window. It felt wonderful. I turned to look outside and take in the bright winter’s day. It was unusually cold, but the sky was a beautiful blue. My obsession with comparing the past to the present and wondering about the future had nearly prevented me from enjoying the present moment. As I slowly let go of clinging to how I believed things “should” be, I was able to appreciate the beauty around me.

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron writes:

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land. To experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together.

I  think I have been feeling “thrown out of the nest” by the change and uncertainty of these times, and it seems like it was necessary for me to accept everything the moment had to offer, including the loss of the illusion of predictability in my life, in order for me to experience the warmth of the sun.

Even though I have some rational understanding of impermanence, I still try to grasp onto stability and avoid change. I believe that if I am able to give attention to the changes inside and around me, it will help me accept impermanence. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:

We can practice conscious breathing to help us be in touch with things and to look deeply at their impermanent nature. This practice will keep us from complaining that everything is impermanent and therefore not worth living for. Impermanence is what makes transformation possible. We should learn to say, “Long live impermanence”. Thanks to impermanence, we can change sufferings into joy.

If we practice the art of mindful living, when things change, we won’t have any regrets. We can smile, because we have done our best to enjoy every moment of our life and to make others happy. When you get into an argument with someone you love, please close your eyes and visualize yourselves three hundred years from now. When you open your eyes, you will only want to take each other in your arms and acknowledge how precious each of you is. The teaching of impermanence helps us appreciate fully what is there, without attachment or forgetfulness.

We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life more. Living deeply, we will touch the foundation of reality, nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death. Touching impermanence deeply, we touch the world beyond permanence and impermanence. We touch the ground of being and see that which we have called being and non-being are just notions. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing is ever gained.

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. After our meditation period we will explore in our Dharma sharing the many ways we hold impermanence.  I invite you to consider these questions:

  • How do I respond to loss, change, and uncertainty?
  • What mindfulness practices have I found to be helpful?
  • How has my relationship to impermanence shifted over time?

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

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