Living in the field of impermanence.
Recently I learned about a family member’s terminal cancer diagnosis. In the days since I have been thinking about death and change and how I respond when these threads surface in my life. It’s a given that things will change, from moment to moment and across the expanse of days, weeks, years. I am considering impermanence as an inquiry: how do I actually organize around the reality of change as a given in my life?
How do I organize around change? Sometimes with a sense of relief and celebration, rushing in to embrace the change as it unfolds. Other times, I meet change reluctantly, with sorrow, frustration, fear, or outright denial and avoidance. It can seem attractive to me to end what I experience as painful, tedious, or frightening, and to prolong what I name pleasurable, exciting, or comforting. And in that rushing in, what am I fleeing? In that prolonging of pleasure, what am I avoiding? And what do I miss in all this rushing and prolonging, this fleeing and avoiding?
Impermanence, the reality that all things will change, end and reconfigure, offers a range of challenges. A loved one approaches their dying and we are faced with inhabiting life without their presence. We are faced with the reality of our own eventual leaving. Our children growing taller and the wrinkles forming on our faces are a daily reminder of time passing, possibilities changing, partings, and our own certain death.
So I’m wondering, in the turbulence of change, what is it that actually can offer constancy, stability? What do we/I turn to for solace? In the midst of groundlessness what can actually help us/me cultivate and replenish a sense of ease? I am interested in exploring these questions.
And I am considering complexity. I am sitting on the cusp of a positive professional change and find myself avoiding the rite of passage that will signify and enable the crossing over. Noticing this I am struck by how even positive change can be scary. There are the changes that may bring a welcome end to one kind of discomfort or frustration but which create a secondary change we might fear. There are times when the known discomfort seems easier to be with than our imaginings and anxieties about the vast unknown. This is when I am inclined to resist change, actively seek to stall or avoid it, in favor of hanging out in the comfortable discomfort. But does this actually serve the cultivation of ease or relaxation?
It seems to me that all changes present, in some way, a small rehearsal for dying, for that larger letting go that is sure to come, and that how I organize around change reflects, in some ways, how I am currently resting with the eventuality of death.
In the midst of all the inner noise I may generate in my frantic dances with change — running from or rejecting change because I am afraid, trying to prolong pleasure and prevent its ending, grasping for change because I believe I can’t stand what is currently happening — what can help me accompany what is actually happening right here and now?
Stillness for one thing – slowing down to notice and be with present moment experience inside me and around me. Tending to my breath, the constant (for now) rhythm of my aliveness. Resting into gravity, into the solidity of the earth below me; noticing the rebound that lifts me up, lets me sit and stand on the earth. Noticing the play of light and shadow.
Yes, the practice of being with what is can help us accompany the rhythms of change in our lives. Rather than seeking to alter the circumstance of the sun setting or rising, I can bring my attention to noticing the changing light and how I am moved. This simple offering of companionship, through the gift attention, and the support of a nourishing, steady breath, is encouraging and crafts ease within groundlessness.
What I notice is that when I am curious about what is happening for me in the midst of change, my curiosity can be a doorway into the willingness and the courage I need in order to be able to sit with what is stirred up in me — whether fear or sorrow. Ironically, as I hang out with what is edgy for me I start to relax with it, and what was edgy itself becomes easier to be with. What a wide and deep relief it can be to let go the need to control change.
Impermanence offers us a beautiful, rich challenge. Impermanence challenges us to accompany the natural ebbing of what we love. Impermanence confronts us with the gradual pace of emergence — will we rush towards, run from, attempt to prevent or or accompany the growing?
I choose to accept the challenge of living in the field of impermanence, the challenge of becoming and leaving: to accompany the letting go of the familiar and to approach the unknown as it comes to meet me.
What about you? What choices are you making?