September 14, 2010

Embracing the Ephemeral: The Only Constant is Change.

We all have those fleeting ‘ah ha’ moments that blatantly remind us of the reality of impermanence. These experiences tend to amplify the fears and resistance towards this inevitable dynamic in life.

My subtle yet powerful reminder came from an unlikely source – watching the Emmy’s.  I think that Julia Ormond is one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. I always picture her as Sabrina immortalized in the wonderful remake film – in her late 20’s and stunning. As she ascended the stage to collect her award, my mind had automatically expected to see Sabrina, and, although she was just as beautiful, if not more so, her face reflected the years that had passed.

It is in circumstances like these, when a moment is captured, that amplify the effects of the continual pull of time. My reaction to seeing Julia’s change in appearance reminded me that, like most people, I have a resistance to impermanence.

Quietly reminded on a moment to moment basis of the process of constant change, most consciously and subconsciously choose to resist the uncomfortableness of this inevitable. This opposition and resistance, no matter how slight, causes much suffering.

Do we find impermanence so uncomfortable because it is an obvious system which is blatantly out of our control? Most people don’t like to be reminded that there are still aspects of life that are out of their realm of domination.

So, if it is known and understood by all that growing old, getting sick, death, and the entropy of material possessions are inevitable, then why do we continually fight the unavoidable transgression of this temporal law?

“That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.”

– Pema Chodron

The constant resistance against something that is inescapable in this lifetime seems to epitomize the definition of insanity. It is understandable to take measures in order to postpone the inevitable; however, there are differences between living a healthy life to deter sickness and death, and being so attached to your body that the aging process is mourned and change is fought.

Beyond the fear of degeneration, entropy and that every second is bringing us closer to death, each person has their own specific contentions with impermanence.

The weight society gives to youth, purchased objects, along with the seemingly innate fear of the ‘ticking clock’ gives rise to a resistance deeply rooted in our brains. An attachment to fleeting ideals which creates a constant, personal, losing battle against an absolute law of ephemerality.

Ahhh… Attachment. Attachment to appearance, material possessions, people, and the comfort of the known present moment. The true obstacle to overcome in order to become accepting of fleeting moments.

I established personal exercises for accepting of the truth of impermanence, deal with my personal issues of attachment, and to also begin the process of actually embracing and appreciating the process. The goal, of course, is to assume a view of acceptance within the true nature of reality.

For me, I am comfortable with the deterioration of material objects, thus I somewhat automatically limit my level of attachment. When I purchase something I immediately remind myself that it will not last and is already in a state of entropy. I reiterate that it is only a material object that brings me no lasting happiness so it will also not bring me suffering if I were to lose it, break it, or if it were to fall apart or be stolen.

My most pressing issues with impermanence stem from my strong attachment to the people in my life. The idea that the life of my loved ones are transitory is immensely painful for me.

I use this pain to remind me to become more mindful and present when in their company. Savoring every moment of time spent in their presence reduces my need to attach and increases my ability to appreciate. There is no room for guilt or regret, only gratitude for the present experience.

I have come to regard my aging process as a beautiful ripening and continual creation of the being I strive to become. As I reflect back on the path which has led to the present, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the lessons learned and the experiences lived; however, I have no attachment to the past thus have no desire to rewind the clock or pause time. The future prospects of learning, loving, and merely appreciating every moment as it presents itself is worth the cost of wrinkles and grey hair, as I make my way towards the next lifetime.

Nothing outside of one’s realm of control is comfortable, nor are the thoughts of becoming sick, dying or losing something or someone that is cherished.  Since existing the past is a futile resistance, as well as questioning and fearing the unknown in the future is pointless, there leaves only one choice for a joyous existence given the nature of reality: Living in the present.

May we all revel mindfully in the present moment appreciating what is here now while accepting and taking comfort in the thought that the only constant in life is change.

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