The Reality of Impermanence
The reality of impermanence was one of the first insights I had when I began meditation practice. As my mind began to quiet I could see for myself that the physical/mental/emotional sensations I felt were all in constant flux. As I learned the freedom of letting go, phenomena in my present reality, whether physical, mental or emotional, began to pass through with even greater speed. I was no longer hindering their movement by holding on.
This insight has changed my life in many ways. I no longer grasp on to material things I don’t need and habits that no longer serve. I fall into the trap of self-referencing my experiences less often. How can I define myself by something that does not stay?
Still, some things—relationships—are much more difficult to release. Even though I’ve lived with the truth of impermanence for many years, I still feel let down at the ultimate deterioration of tulips as they move into dormancy. I mourn the loss of friends and relatives who have passed to the other side.
Aren’t We Lucky?
Recently a friend e-mailed me about her relationship with her three 15-year-old cats, who serve as her friends and confidantes as only four-leggeds can. Each morning my friend greets her cats by saying, “Good morning. Look, aren’t we lucky? We have another day together.”
This moved me deeply. What a wonderful way to relate to those we love. Instead of living in the fear of someday losing them, why not be grateful for the time we have with them right now? Why not greet those we love with genuine appreciation rather than worry, or worse, indifference?
How often do those closest to us become an expected and under-appreciated part of our landscape? How often are we mentally traveling when our families or partners are talking to us? These are the relationships that most deserve tending. It is our close relationships that ground us, that give us ballast when our lives are least stable.
When Mama Kitty decided to move into my house, she was very, very old. Having lived her entire life outdoors, she was thin and ratty looking. Prior to her moving into the house, she had been to the vet once in her life—when I trapped her and had her spayed. She had health issues that, because they were left untended, were far more serious than they would have been had she been an indoor cat all her life. Still, I delighted in her day-to-day metamorphosis from untouchable, feral cat to lap-sitting purr machine. I knew her time was limited, but I chose to appreciate her presence completely. Instead of fretting about her deteriorating condition, I greeted her with gratitude each day.
I have begun seeing my close human relationships this way as well, although I don’t always voice it. Humans often perceive words such as these as gratuitous sentimentality, especially if they hear them every day. Animals aren’t embarrassed by a truthful expression of emotion, and they readily return the sentiment.
I am learning that there are many ways to express appreciation to humans—a kind word, a warm smile, a reassuring touch, the gift of listening fully, an offer to take on a task that might ease a friend’s burden. Finding ways to show appreciation is a wonderful use of creativity.
Appreciation has become a practice, one that has brightened my world. I suspect it may also have some effect on those I love—human and non-human. I know that appreciating the tulips won’t stop them from withering, but it does keep my heart from withering. Look at your life and the blessings it holds—friends, family, community. Enjoy what is here and now. What flowers are blooming in your life?
I was fortunate to experience Mama Kitty’s loving embrace of impermanence too. How lucky we are indeed. I like to remind myself of that each morning when I open my eyes and think, “What a beautiful thing is this.” Of course, knowing Charlotte makes that true.