October 3, 2013

Underwing: Lessons in (Im)permanence. ~ Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Drew Kmiec on Pixoto.


An underwing is a brightly colored hind wing that is visible only during flight. Only certain species of moths have them.

And have you ever noticed how a moth, when under a light, moves in a frame-like nature like an old-fashioned movie projector flashing images onto a screen?

Well, that’s what our life is like.

That’s how we perceive the events that happen in our own reality. And the big challenge is to accept that the series of events in our lives may not be connected. There is another set of wings—another way to fly—that rests within our deepest heart and soul. It takes training to be able to use them.

Normally, we think about the things that happen to us as being causal; logically, if I am kind to people, they will be kind to me as well. However, that may not be the case every time. On occasion, events do not line up in a way that makes sense to the cause-and-effect mentality. When this happens, we suffer the most.

The concept of impermanence can help one to understand that things are always changing.

Even our thoughts change as quickly as a moth flaps its wings, and within an understanding of impermanence is a perfect capitulation of change as a good thing—something that makes us grow as people. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand impermanence because it applies to all humans (and animals and, well, everything!) regardless of their spiritual beliefs.

To be objective with each feeling, thought and experience is to live your life in an emotionally intelligent way—to play with understanding our realities as they truly are.

And don’t you think your life would be better if you thought about (and appreciated!) each moment, event or action through the lens of an objective bystander?

Pema Chödrön:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” 

As humans, we grow in the process of movement. If we are constantly moving, we are constantly growing. But in order to grow in the right direction, we also need to rest and reflect on the direction we are moving in—the trajectory in which we hurdle ourselves into the future. After all, nothing is ever permanent or constant. This way of meditating and acting constitutes our human underwings.

When something hurts you and you fall down, whip out your colorful underwings and fly up! Look at each experience for what it truly is and overcome it with color and glee.

If you think outside of your own box of existence for a few moments and focus perhaps on a forest’s existence, you’ll maybe consider the different levels of movement and change occurring. Over the span of about 40 or 50 years, a seed will germinate and reach into the sky, aspiring to become a fully grown Ponderosa pine tree.

Fungi, moss, and lichens will creep and tickle roots and cover bark, and though they grow very quickly, they are so small that one often fails to notice them. Birds will flit about, finding seeds, berries, and worms (and moths!) and bringing them back to their nests.

Dead things will turn into soil, slowly but surely, food for the fungi. Rain, snow, and sunshine will roll through the land and sky, acting as catalysts in all this change that happens.

We do not see these events as chronological, but rather as simultaneous and interdependent happenings that create one habitat. And with our own lives, ecosystems, and even the solar system, this concept of codependent arising governs the way one event affects (or doesn’t affect) another event.

This is how our lives are—they are governed by codependent arising. And we fail to understand the chaos sometimes because it is often non-causal.

Sometimes it may take years to understand the benefit of heartbreak, loss, pain, or any other suffering.

Maybe the dream job you have was actually a bad thing. Maybe a breakup was a good thing. But like a Ponderosa pine turning into a majestic forest being, it may take years to understand why the joy or success or heartbreak or pain in our lives is impermanent, and hence, beneficial in our growth and development.

We all have wings, and sometimes we brush up with adversity and some of the dust scrapes off of them. Maybe, like a moth, we hit a light too hard and fall to the ground. The key is to get up just as fast as we fell.

Nothing is permanent. So move, sit, think, and appreciate each moment for its true nature: the qualities that make it what it is. Develop your underwings by loving, doing whatever meditations are right for you, being compassionate and standing up for yourself.

And you will fly.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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