I’ve sifted through time,
right here to this spot,
influenced by every drop of sound
that has hummed itself in range of my countenance.
I am the manifestation of my mother’s walk to sobriety, and subsequent hard work,
my father’s grounded nature and integrity,
my best friends growing up,
like Jamie, who I lost over a boy,
and all the boys I crushed on and left for other boys;
my paternal grandmother’s adoration of babies
and my maternal grandfather’s sense of placement and orderliness;
and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” song,
which served as my personal anthem, drumming me on my journey west away from home,
days before I would turn 19.
This one life, amid all my musings and ramblings and incoherent tangles of thought,
has been so artfully crafted and groomed by an endless sea of moments and influences
that it becomes impossible to discern where “I” begin and end –
as with any minor adjustment to my life,
I would be someone altogether different.
Tag Archives: impermanence
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.
In our local meditation center, we have a large calligraphy done by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) that reminds us to: Go as a river, which is a common teaching in our tradition. These few simple words have a depth of wisdom instilled within them, and can be translated in a few different ways. To me, Go as a river speaks to two main key components of our practice tradition: impermanence and brotherhood/sisterhood.
In regards to impermanence, Go as a river speaks to the ever-changing flow of life. Suffering, in large part, develops when we’re fighting against what is unfolding in the present moment, as though we’re trying to walk upstream amid a fast-moving river. To Go as a river means to go with the flow of life, to learn how to accept its non-permanent state and not get stuck in our own preferences and thoughts about how things should be. Despite our best laid plans and ideas, life can oftentimes twist and turn in unexpected ways. To Go as a river means to cultivate resiliency, inclusiveness, solidity, and ease, with the deepening understanding that things/people/situations are of the nature to change.
In regards to brotherhood & sisterhood, Go as a river means to recognize the importance and cultivation of community and interconnection. On a more intimate level, it means: to root ourselves in a loving, supportive, healthy sangha. On a larger level, it means: to see all the ways in which we depend on one another as a global family. Brotherhood and sisterhood are about discovering ways to actively connect and engage with our friends, family, local community, and the world in such a way that compassion and understanding are generated. Read the rest of this entry »
Here are some things I’m working to integrate into my daily life after returning home from being on retreat at Deer Park Monastery:
1. When I brush my teeth my usual tendency is to do other things while brushing my teeth (which is often quite comical, because I’ll attempt to do all kinds of things that have no business in trying to be accomplished in the midst of brushing my teeth!), so I’m practicing to stay put while brushing my teeth and not roam around the house.
2. When I was at Deer Park I came up with two new morning verses I would say to myself upon waking up each day, and I’m wanting to continue with them:
Waking up, my smile greets a fresh new day
and, when first rising out of bed, As my feet touch the ground, may I rise with intention, like the sun
3. I came up with this meal verse (to say internally to myself once I was finished eating) when I first went to Deer Park on extended retreat 4 years ago. It’s been something I’ve done at every meal while at Deer Park each January but haven’t carried home with me in my daily life, which I’d like to remedy. After eating verse:
This bowl (or plate) was just filled with wonderful, nutritious, delicious food. May I take the energy and nourishment it provides me and transform it into ____, _____, and ______ on my path of practice today.
For the fill-in-the-blank spots, I list three components that make sense to me for that particular moment and time of day. So, for instance, after breakfast I might use the words: mindfulness, ease, and joy, and after dinner I might say: rest, release, and self-care.
Developing fresh, new ways in which to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life not only helps to support my transition back into the wonderful flow of daily living but also enables me to cultivate and strengthen my seeds of mindfulness, stability, and connection. Because the journey of being human and navigating this world, which is “beautiful and absurd and small” (as Ani Difranco sings in one her songs), as always and ever, continues on, flowing as a river, perpetually shifting and changing.
Snow drapes the town in satin white,
tucking us warmly into shelter.
I see the ocean in its crystalline form,
saturating flat undulating ground.
Transported to the sun-drenched Jersey shore days of my youth,
I feel the salt water tangle in my hair,
as swells of laughter and gulls peak between the ocean’s inhale and exhale.
Bare skin and unadorned feet browning and cracking.
My gaze catches on the snow when it falls
and on the ocean when I’m near it,
the same way it used to when I’d primp on the beaches
to flirt with boys.
My gaze, while peripheral, was held steady by them, too.
But, in the cute, summer boys I would lose myself
in romantic sojourns –
and in the shifting forms of water,
I regain my sovereignty amid each circulating droplet,
remembering with quivering assurance,
that I, too,
have been part of this landscape
since the very beginning.
Amid the world’s changes – for better, for worse, and usually a little of both – let us continue to do our work.
The work of a practitioner,
who knows, deep down, that impermanence is the marrow of life’s bones.
It does us no good to wallow in our devastation, breathing stale air into our worries.
It does us no good to commiserate with one another about how terrible we feel something or someone is.
Let us experience our sorrow, full fledged and fleeting,
and then toss it to scatter wildly about the hills.
Let us rock our sadness until it has calmed itself and fallen to sleep,
birthing in its wake a renewed diligence, towards our own transformation.