Jeni was a person who loved so big and bright you just wanted to sit near her. Forever.
Spring equinox has just passed, a time of balance between the light and dark. I have always loved this time of year, when spring rushes forth and the days grow longer, warmer, softer. However, this year is different; the equinox is now forever marked by a dear friend’s passing one year ago. On the morning of that day last year—while I sat with my women’s retreat group on the Big Island of Hawaii, quietly and mindfully witnessing a spectacular sunrise—one of my closest friends, Jeni, unbeknownst to me, was leaving her body in Santa Barbara, California.
Jeni was a person who loved so big and bright you just wanted to sit near her. Forever. Her laugh was contagious, her beauty like the tide pools in moonlight; it had a reflective quality. Her passing left me with many blessings, one of which is the bittersweet-edged experience of death and the imminent reality of our own impermanence.
At age three I remember crushing a caterpillar. Splat. In the pinch of my finger her tiny life was over. Then, feeling sad about that, I took the next caterpillar I found, hung it in a jar and watched her transform miraculously into a chrysalis, emerging days later into the beauty of a fleeting butterfly. Two weeks after that, I found the butterfly, or one just like her, dead in the grass, her wings hauntingly decayed, the powder of her delicacy drifting in the wind.
Change is all around us.
Change is, in itself, neither good, nor bad. As we get older, wiser, more mature, we grow more accustomed to this change. We lose a friend or a family member. We get sick, go through a divorce, lose a job. Or, we experience good changes. We get married, have a child, secure the job we have been yearning for, travel somewhere exciting.
We are immersed in the swirl of change, impermanence in every moment, and still, when we are confronted by it, when it threatens our worlds, we often act incredulous, are outraged or thrown by the onslaught that dares to threaten our existence.
The incredible feeling of grief is so deep and can be the hardest emotion to face in our entire lives. Losing my friend last year, losing my baby daughter 10 years ago—these were times when I had to reckon with the profound reality of life’s passing.
Ultimately, the key to the never-ending process of change lies in our responses.
By taking time each day to meditate, to have a moment of quiet and retreat, we are able to face the very nature of change within our own minds. When we see the fluidity of change rising and falling away in the form of thoughts, sensations, emotions, fantasies, we begin to recognize that in each of life’s situations, change will come.
In many ways, actually, this is a relief and there is real freedom in awareness. The anger will naturally fall away; the sorrow will fade; the grip will eventually loosen. By having the direct experience of this law of nature, the nature of change, we can develop equanimity, watching the wild stormy waves of our mind. Sitting with ourselves and practicing meditation becomes not only a practical, stress reducing technique, but a very real tool to aid us in the ocean of constant change that we are immersed in.
Of course this also means facing the reality that our loved ones will fade away, that the flowering tree will eventually rot and die, that the gorgeous day or friend or incredible job will one day pass. Sitting on that edge, dropping into the depth of knowing that all is passing gives me chills. It is the feeling of being haunted, of hovering between the worlds.
From this place, a sense of profound beauty overwhelms me; it is the beauty way, a glimpse of what the Buddha called emptiness, the profundity of nothing ever staying the same. If we can drop further into this experience, we may find a kind of calm amidst the storm and deep appreciation amidst the abundance.
This equinox I offered chants and flowers to Jeni, who appeared to pass from this world too early. She is my humble reminder as spring returns—even amidst all the flowering and creating—that still, as in the Buddha’s final words at his death, “This too must pass.”
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Assistant Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna/Kate Bartolotta
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