What is it about human nature that so deftly fights what is, so nimbly spars with the starkness of reality?
We fight our own nature day in and day out. At least most of us do. We build up so much resistance around what simply is. Aging, emotions, death, growth, weather, traffic, unexpected events, plans changing, bodies changing, minds changing…we fight our own reality.
I study the teachings of some of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers. Byron Katie, Pema Chadron, the Buddha. All of the teachings, though woven through words unique in their luminosity, are the same at their root. These teachers would be the first to point this out, I’m sure. At the core, all of them are saying the same thing…Love. What. Is.
The notion is so simple, really. If we can fall in love with the way things really are, rather than our safe, fabricated story, we can live in ease. We can flow.
But we don’t, do we? Do you? I don’t. I practice every single day; I sit for meditation, I live in my yoga, and still…the practice goes on. It’s the practice of a lifetime.
People fall out of love. Bodies age. People die. It rains when it was supposed to be sunny. There’s traffic when you didn’t expect it. Tomorrow doesn’t go as yesterday did. Our expectations aren’t met.
I don’t know about you, but just compiling that list sparked a familiar tightening sensation in my chest. Resistance…
How are we to live lives of ease and peacefulness when we carefully constructed stories, fortresses built up high around our little selves, in hopes of protecting and preserving what is, by nature, bound to change?
It’s an ugly predicament. One from which we can only free ourselves. There’s no magic pill, no magic book and no magic teacher to pull us along with this one. It all happens inside. Perhaps that’s the scariest part of all. The introspection. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Learning to see our stories as merely that—stories.
I am guilty of wanting every day to be the same, on the surface. Ideally I would have the same routine everyday, carefully controlled so as to check off all the boxes and accomplish all I wish to accomplish with plenty of time to revel in the satisfaction of a job well done; a day well lived. But is that reality?
It’s rubbish, if anything. Sure, the idea of having control over one’s life is lovely, but the truth is we just don’t. If we did, we probably would ache for spontaneity and surprise. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? Believing we are able to direct the flow of the Universe only builds inflexible, angst-ridden human beings. I know because I was one of them. I spend each day moving away from that form of myself.
What else is rubbish is the idea of an unchanging life. There’s security in it, sure, but is there excitement? Joy? If we planted some seeds in our backyard and they just stayed that way, never grew into flowers, how satisfying would that be? In order to enjoy the flowers and to watch them grow, one must accept that, inevitably, the flowers will die. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Accepting the yin with the yang.
But we like to grind against the grain. It’s human nature. We want what we can’t have. We make lists. We plan. We scheme. We pray and pray for things to go our way. The truth of the matter is…change is inevitable. You are different than you were when you began reading this. I am different than I was when I began writing it. On a cellular, and spiritual, level we are constantly in flux. Change, in fact, is the only constant.
We will age. Our skin will sag and wrinkle, one day. We are mortal. We will not live forever, neither will the people we love and admire. We will change our minds. Sometimes it will be painful and other times completely liberating. Other people will change their minds and we won’t be able to control it.
Sometimes it will feel for the better and sometimes it will feel for the worse. We’ll get stuck in the rain, and in traffic, and in pants that once fit but we’ve now grown out of. Babies will grow up and learn to fend for themselves and eventually leave home. Jobs, relationships, homes and identifications will reach a point where they no longer serve us. We will be better caring for ourselves by manifesting a state in which we can recognize this, and free them to the beckoning winds.
Wouldn’t life be dull if everything looked the same? Would it not be terribly monotonous if the whole world were covered with forest, or desert, or meadow? If it were always summer, or winter, or spring? Wouldn’t that get old at some point? There would never be any surprise, never the deep sigh of acclimation as we embrace the newness of what our environment has come to be.
Death is the hardest part of all this, for me. I’ve written before about how my yoga practice has, in a sense, lifted my fear of death. What lies beneath that, though, is the harrowing realization that the death of those I love is a haunting notion. One I can’t even bring myself to entertain because it’s just too painful.
In the past month I’ve known of three souls who’ve passed away. There’s a distance by which I “knew” each of them, in varying degrees. The first was an elderly woman, who passed away suddenly from an undetected head injury four days after a minor car accident. Her husband has been roaming the store in the weeks following her passing, as though searching for her shadow. His wet blue eyes mop the aisles, perhaps scouring the space for memories or maybe just lingering in a place that holds her presence so strongly.
Just a few days ago I learned of a girl from my hometown, several years older than me, an old volleyball teammate, who fell suddenly into a diabetic coma and passed away. It was the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve been haunted by this tragedy. The entire town is, in fact. We’re from a very small town where everyone knows each other. To have a well-known, gorgeous, popular, incredible young woman be taken so suddenly, the day after a holiday no less, has proven shocking. The grief emanating from my little town is palpable, even all these miles away.
Then yesterday I learned of the famous actor Paul Walker’s sudden and horrific death. I couldn’t help but reel in my deeply human reaction as I read an internet account of the tragedy. How can someone be there one instant, taking photographs, laughing, smiling, living so fully…and be gone the next?
It’s just haunting, the whole notion. I mean, by definition, death is natural. It’s just what happens. With life there is death. That is just the truth, a fact, it is what is. What’s haunting is those left behind. The pain that tears through the ones left asking, why? The sadness is rooted in us, not the ones we’ve lost.
Their souls are perfectly preserved, having moved on to the next stage in their journey, someplace better. No doubt they are whispering to us, fret not, this is how it’s supposed to be, your life is going exactly where it’s meant to for having loved and lost me…and I am going where I’m meant to for having left earth in the way I did!
Okay, there’s no way for me to know what exactly a departed spirit would whisper to those left behind, but I believe to my very marrow that it’s something just like that. My mom has said to me, while I weep at the bone-chilling sadness of tragedies (as I so often do, being a sensitive little soul), Honey, you have to trust that there is a bigger picture here, a bigger story. It’s so true. My mother is my greatest spiritual teacher. It’s so hard to believe that, when a parent has to bury their child, that it’s all happening as it’s meant to. It’s very trying to believe that the loss is serving a purpose, for the departed soul as well as everyone left behind.
Our lives change course for a reason, and they’re almost never sent in a different direction without some life-altering, often horrific, sometimes just deeply intense circumstance. Nothing is happenstance. The Universe has a plan. It’s often through death that laws are made, and future lives are saved. It’s through death that change is instigated. It’s through death that certain morals and messages are suspended in time, untouchable, like Martin Luther King’s dream. It’s through tragedy that the powerful missions of these truncated lives are undertaken and continued by the supporters, the mourners, the ones left behind.
There is a purpose. Love is at the core. Love is always at the core. We wouldn’t weep for those we’ve lost if we hadn’t loved them, and we wouldn’t weep with joy for new beginnings if they too weren’t laced with love. We wouldn’t weep when our children left home and when life tips the scales on us if we hadn’t been happy, if our lives hadn’t been spiked with love.
We must learn to love change. There’s no other way about it. We must see the love in change, the love in what is, and embrace it. Become one with it. Or else we will spend our entire lives fighting a losing battle. Pushing up against resistance that has the whole world at its back. We will be trampled, and we will miss out on the precious moments of our own valuable lives.
We never know how long we have. Here on earth, with one another, in these bodies we call “ours.” We never know for certain. So why should we waste so much time pinching our middles, wishing away traffic, complaining about people, pretending that tomorrow will be the same as today and pretending we’d really want it to be.
It’s a practice, and a thick potion to drink, I realize. But it’s a practice. We are all working on it, separately but together. It may never be second nature to just love what is. Making a lifetime of the practice, fully dedicating oneself to loving…what…is… sure sounds a heck of a lot better than spending a lifetime draped in the veil of ignorance, believer of one’s own stories, never fully embracing what’s all around…never fully embracing what is.
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Assistant Editor: Judith Andersson / Editor: Bryonie Wise