Some time on Wednesday during the day or early evening – or perhaps it was around 10pm and it was the sound I heard that prodded me to get up from my almost sleep to investigate – a widow-maker fell from one of our two slowly dying elm trees in the backyard.
As massive tangle-wall of green bramble, spindly branches, and 100-year-old heavy trunk has taken up residency in the middle of the yard, where I mow and sometimes, when the spirit calls for it, frolic.
In some respect, we saw it coming. It was only a matter of time – just like everything else. Nothing ever happens without circumstance. Nothing has ever happened for “no reason” or “out of nowhere.” Had we been wildly surprised and/or shaken up at the sight of it, it would’ve said much more about our own sad state of affairs than it would’ve the tree’s.
Still, when suddenly confronted face-to-face with such a large object that once forever held steady up above, it can make a person ponder such things as constancy, and how very many ways there are to die.
It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.
What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.
I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.
Sunset last Friday night in Missoula
With the beauty of autumn unfolding here in the Rocky Mountains of Montana I’ve been thinking about the fertile opportunities that transitions offer us. I was imagining what it would be like if there were no autumn season here. What if we jumped overnight from summer to winter? Yikes! Or what if babies grew up in a matter of days rather than a matter of years? Double yikes!
Sometimes transitions can allow us the chance to ease into the impermanent nature of things. They can be a time of richness and spaciousness. They can also be challenging and at times very difficult. Moving from one thing to another thing often takes a period of transition time in between. And this in-between time can often involve inner feelings of both harmony and dis-harmony happening together at the same time.
Whether we’re going from summer to fall, moving from one town to another, parenting an ever-changing, growing child, entering a new phase of adulthood, or starting over in a new job or relationship things take time to adjust to. We are not static beings living in a fixed environment. We are always changing. Our surroundings are always changing. Our loved ones are always changing.
As summer slowly turns to fall with the setting sun edging towards the horizon noticeably earlier each day, my stepson becomes a freshman in high school, and I begin my first job search in 6-7 years (since my health has been improving) I am put in touch with the nature of impermanence. Everything changes!
Hand in hand with the practice of embracing impermanence is the practice of letting go. Oftentimes in order to embrace one thing we must be able to let something else go. In order to embrace fall we must let go of the summer. To embrace our children as they grow and mature we must be able to let go of who they once were and how we, as parents, once treated them. Everything and everyone are of the nature to change. The more we expect things and people and ourselves to stay the same the more we will continue to be disappointed when the opposite inevitably happens.