Perhaps a bit ironically, I’ve been approaching writing this piece for over a year, nearly two in fact. Truthfully, as the page is still largely blank while these words run out onto it, it may more be that this piece catches the light just so and allows a reflection of some of those things I’ve been meaning to write over that period of time…
I wax a bit spacious, you might notice.
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This is a piece about impermanence.
I was “invited” to put this down the other day as I sat, with a friend, to meditate. We chose an audio recording, “Longchenpa - A Meditation on Impermanence,” as a thread to follow through the silence.
Thanks to the meditation instruction and guidance I’ve received from Dr. Daniel P Brown, a discipline he put into practice for many years after receiving it from others, I’ve come to value looking directly into the space of awareness itself, allowing the objects therein to move and dance and pass away while gazing steadily into that luminous, vital, still and boundless space.
Increasingly among the objects there, I find my own tension, anxieties, fears and projections also shimmer and glint and pass away.
Impermanence in the boundless, timeless velvet soft eternity.
This point of view of looking into and through countless views, embracing them in gentleness and allowance of great freedom, has come to be my practice of late. Often these days, I accompany these periods of rest with recordings of the lovely voice of Samaneri Jayasāra who has generously recorded a vast trove of sacred teachings from a variety of wisdom traditions that have found a home on earth in these ages.
I want to reference a few of these in this post.
The first, I have already mentioned above. An invitation to stare past the fleeting nature of life and into the eyes of death itself, piercing even that finality, will bring us to those comments I referenced having wanted to share for some years now.
Another speaks to the sacred opportunity even to contemplate these things.
Contemplate for a moment the incredible rarity that it is to even consider our lives in the terms of these depths. Please forgive the following anthropocentrism…
If we limit our calculations to the number of living organisms alive on this planet, at this time, we begin our contemplation with numbers well beyond the hundreds of thousands of trillions.
If we are generous, and include with humans, whales and dolphins and elephants, and even a handful of other of our more sophisticated neighbors (in terms of complex inner lives), our number shrinks dramatically to something along the order of 49 billion (undoubtedly an exceedingly generous number.)
Already my feeble math places our second group as less than a single percentage of the entire number of lives present with us today. But we are far from done.
Of we and our 49 billion potential cohort mates, how many of us enjoy the luxury of even contemplating for more than a moment the fragile nature of our existence, and from which deeper nature might we actually arise? Vastly fewer indeed.
Of those, how many sustain such an inquiry; of those how many endure to a meaningful realization of the rarity of such insight? From there, how many fewer still put these insights into practice in their daily lives?
You see where I’m going with this…
"For hundreds and thousands of years I lived as a mineral. Then I died and was reborn a plant.
For hundreds and thousands of years I lived as a plant. Then I died and was reborn an animal.
For hundreds and thousands of years I lived as an animal. Then I was reborn as a human.
What did I ever lose in dying?"
I had this poem attributed to Rumi, but uncertain of the translation origin; Robert Bly also published a book by a title similar to the last line, so maybe from there…
About a year ago as I was contemplating the death of my meditation instructor, and the fragility of my own life circumstances, I took a turn through a book titled “Life Before Life” by Jim Tucker. The narration chronicles many decades of impeccable scientific research into the now quite apparently actual phenomenon of past and (therefore implicitly) future lives.
After all, we know that habits persist within individuals, culture persists through generations, genetic patterns persist through lineages of DNA, why not patterns of being that surface through a variety of life instances. If you doubt this, I would encourage you to review the research above before dismissing something that may otherwise simply be disruptive to a current cosmological paradigm.
Indeed, death is certain. What might we be doing in this life that may be worth developing and sustaining now in the face of that fragility? Can we find a place to stand that reveals a constant stream of beauty pouring forth from the certainty of impermanence in a boundless field of transcendent presence?
“The certainty of impermanence…” A polarity, if ever there was one.
Of course, intellectually, we all know that this life is bounded and death will arrive on its own terms and time. Still, it is easy to pass the entire time in distraction, gathering experiences, tending to desires and aversions, setting in motion future generations perhaps to do the same. Most of our 49 billion friends (not to be uncaring to the trillions more) will join us in this dubious privilege of scampering about.
It is a strange kind of fortune when our life circumstances bring us face-to-face with the fragility of these endeavors.
I have been living in such a circumstance for about 3 ½ years now.
[The church bells outside toll the 6 o’clock hour just now, as if to add an air of poetry to the experience of recording these words.]
While much of humanity in the last three years has been living in the acute anxiety of a global pandemic, such an affair has appeared more as a sideshow for me in that period. The nature of my own felt “fragility” has been tied more to the socioeconomic dimension of experience, rather than that of a crudely life-threatening infectious disease.
As a “self-funded” quadriplegic, I have been enjoying the real privilege of covering my own substantial costs of care for the better part of two decades. My ability to sustain that in the way that I had, began to come to a close in mid-2019.
… Here I go searching the inter-webs in vain for another poem by our beloved Rumi, some lines to speak to our sacred connection to existence…
I’ll make do with my own… Perhaps not so much poetry, but nonetheless. There is a force within evolution, some majesty that draws forth from big bangs and hydrogen clouds, roses, and the scent of roses, and the love of the scent of a rose. How could we imagine that that which lives through us could be any less majesty, that we ourselves could be any less graced?
Still, in the world today…
[And our friend Elisa, helping me to search for the poem finds this…]
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Still in the world today… When looking through the eyes of my rational mind, the apparition arises. How to pay for care? The reality of the lizard foraging for food in the desert, uncertain of success, to be sure. How many of our living friends pass away each day from hunger, or for becoming food for another? This is a very real existential challenge, not special to any branch of life.
The system in which I came to be a quadriplegic has costs built-in for just such an occasion. The automobile and parts manufacturers whose equipment failures cost the world the full function of my spine and body, already had built into their bottom line, their annual budget, a little sum tucked away for just such an occasion. At a certain point, setting something aside becomes more cost-efficient than developing through to a “fully stable and secure” product offering.
I lived on that allowance, as I said, for nearly 2 decades. I knew that it would not last and had made plans, such as they were, woefully insufficient to the task of meeting the impending deficit.
I do not condemn myself for this failure. I learned a great deal in the journey, and a great deal more in the face of what I had not. Nonetheless, 3 ½ years ago I entered a state of relative freefall. No longer living on stores of fat, but rather living meal to meal, I found myself face-to-face with a looming specter of uncertainty.
Now to the point…
While I shared some of this somewhat freely early on, I quickly learned that misfortune can compound if not treated tenderly. In other words, I learned to keep my struggles, and proximity to failure a little close to the chest, should it otherwise disrupt the fragile equanimity of others who might feel some sense of investment in my well-being.
Of course, like many things, this cuts both ways, a deficit of insight into my practically precarious situation could leave others who hold me in regard with a greater sense of anxiety themselves.
Life happens in the present moment. All of the true wealth arises in that perfect space between an ephemeral remembered past and an imagined future equally so.
Here. Now. This is where everything exists. Each of us a wakeful eye gazing into that tremendous kaleidoscope of majesty. The depth of our seeing, the entire measure of wealth, everything else simply derivative of that.
I have been hesitant, as I said, to share the fragile feeling of having to find my way moment to moment and month-to-month through the socio-economic jungle of finding and paying for and keeping adequate care to keep the journey afoot. “My cross to bear,” or some version of that, I thought to myself, quietly “protecting” others from having to witness what often felt like a slow-motion terror on the ground.
Even now, deep into the reflection of this article, I find a tenderness, a carefulness of footing as I attempt to turn and face and speak directly into the enormous majesty of impermanence.
For 3 ½ years, I have been walking in the sunlight of this impermanence, a brilliant glow so blindingly bright that I often could not see the next place on the path towards which my foot was falling. A constant companion on the journey has been the living sense, that there was no ground at all from which I was stepping, nor place of security upon which I might land.
There have been many hours of anxiety, too many of them late at night when otherwise I may have preferred to be resting. There have been days of loneliness, feelings as though the weight of effort was far too great to be carried upon these paralyzed legs. Gazing into the busy world around me, darkness, neutrality, and light, hopelessness and death, joyfulness and optimistic creativity, it was often easy to feel apart from this, as though I had failed as a member of this great affair.
Within all that motion, all of that coming and going, the rush and the moments of salvation where by some grace of compassion ground and capacity was provided, somewhere within all of that there is a stillness, a self beyond worry and hope that has persisted unbroken.
I’ve been wanting to share something of this experience, some story of peace and beauty “in spite of…” So many hands along the way have reached out to say “I care, let me help in some small way.” (Indeed, in such a context there is very little “small” help, and others surely went well beyond such constructs.) I’ve been wanting to reach out to say out loud, all of your efforts have brought about the change, I am now stable and certain and striding forward on solid land.
But each time, the land is clearly impermanent, transcendent uncertainty looms in definite relief against the horizon. Each gesture of care has kept aloft these wings, just only to here. Without some grace, the fall has been certain each moment to moment to moment, except through the lens of the open-heart which does not grasp and therefore feels no gravity.
I thought when I started that I might give some words to that sense of grace. To that generosity of impermanence, to that looking beyond the fleeting moments of this life or that moment, I might whisper some scent of wisdom, some deep struck awe for the boundless force of wonder and peacefulness that seems to seep through whenever I stop the searching for the next certainty and just rest in the gratitude of being.
Perhaps I have said something here that goes to that, and perhaps not. It’s true that today, as I write these words, my situation is as uncertain as it has ever been. I do not know what stability I will find, if any, a month from today. Nonetheless I smile at the words offered recently by a kind wisdom soul who said to me, “leap from the cliff and believe feathers will grow before you land.”
This piece ended on an oddly hopeful tone, not that I had hoped or intended otherwise.
At the same time, I think the deeper lesson I am finding within this study of Impermanence has less to do with some salvation for a self destined for decay, and goes more to the point of looking with a piercing gaze into the heart of being and pouring only love and compassion there.
In the words of another poet friend…
“What is love?
Kabir will tell you.
Suppose you had to cut off your head and give it to someone else, what difference would that make?”
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Very moving piece... an invitation to reach towards impermanence. I am in awe with you. As I get to experience you through your posts I get more and more amazed at the grace of your soul.
Also... lately I have been reading about timelessness... would impermanence be its opposite? How do your relate to timelessness? I do hope for miracles that arise directly from the hand of God. ❤️