By Debra Greenfield
Recently, my husband and I experienced a sudden and dramatic event that forced us to look at our practice, and how we integrate it into our daily lives. It’s pretty easy to be mindful when everything is going along just so, our relationship, family, work and spiritual life just rolling along peacefully. We wake up and sit with our tea in the morning, starting our day empty and go off into our little routines. Understanding “anicca”, knowing everything is impermanent, but forgetting that even this, the life we carefully nurtured and built for ourselves could one day be taken from us in an instant.
And, of course, that’s just what happened!
Our little world was rocked to its core, and we woke up to find ourselves a few months later in a new home, a new job, and a completely foreign way of living. Gone is our little apartment by the lake, across from the park, a mere walking distance to my husbands’ job. Gone is my Buddhist Sangha, my Spiritual center, and my friends. No busses run along this mountain pass, less than 8 miles from the Canadian border, and forget about internet access or a good mocha! Everything is strange, beautiful and quiet. Everything is new, and my mind wants to say “I miss my life”. But, this IS my life,THIS is what we are doing- chopping wood and carrying water ( well, bottled from the store, but it’s REALLY heavy!). Cooking wonderful meals out of our single pot (a Le Cruset Dutch oven, but … still one pot!) , and sitting on the floor of our little cabin in the woods that has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I am listening to the rain on the tin roof as the wood stove keeps us warm and feeling like we were hit by a tornado that plopped us here like Dorothy’s house landing in Oz. This is how it happens, not with a whimper but a loud cry, change descends upon us and whisks away our comfortable day to day-ness, forcing us to think about how we cling to our routines, possessions and relationships. What is really important, what do we really need, and what would happen if it was all taken away from us?
“Change is inevitable, everything is impermanent”-we hear it all the time in the Buddha’s teachings. Everything is in a state of flux, continually growing, changing, and eventually passing away. After almost 10 years of studying Buddhist Dharma, meditating and helping others to learn the benefit of this path, when change came to my world, I was blown away. I cried, I stamped my feet, I curled up in a fetal position and cursed those who brought about the change. But who was I cursing? How can I blame anyone for something that is inevitable? How many times have I chanted “anicca vata sankara – all conditions are impermanent” thinking I understood the meaning behind the words, only to have my years of practice fly out the window when confronted with the true nature of this human life. Sure, it sounded good when I chanted it, (especially in Pali, so pretty)! But, even more than death, (which although painful, most of us can understand the necessity of) uncontrollable life changes can shake us to our core, and force us to take a good hard look at what we really need to be happy.
Tomorrow we get the moving truck and go down to pick up our “stuff” out of storage, to sully up our beautifully empty space with our (well, mostly my) junk, and maybe sort out what we really want to bring here and bless others with what we don’t. I was trying to think about what I boxed up so quickly and stuffed into the storage unit – our lives jammed into a 5×8’ storage locker-and was amused to realize there was so much I couldn’t remember after only a couple of months. All of those things I surrounded myself with -my artwork, my crafts, my books, my pretty nic naks- are faded in my memory as I see how easy it is to live without them. I have grown so much in my practice with this experience, and developed close friendships as I allowed people to help me, swallowing my pride and saying yes to their kindness.
So, what have I gained from this? I know that even in times of hardship, if we can look past our attachments and let go of how we think things should be, we can open ourselves to the beautiful experience of living life in the moment. By understanding our connection with all beings, seeing the importance of allowing others to perform acts of kindness, compassion and generosity and letting go of the illusion of control, we can find beauty in impermanence, grace in acceptance, and joy in the simple act of going with the flow. Before you know it, you can be living your dream, experiencing life as it comes and the happiness of being OK with whatever life brings you. We just have to remember, ALL things are impermanent, not just the good stuff but the “not so good” as well. We just have to ride it out with patience and not go to fear, letting our lives unfold as opposed to writing our stories.
I can’t believe I love chopping wood and carrying water! Who would have thought? I now know that when I am done with this, there are many more experiences to be had. I await them with glad anticipation, and will do my best to live this life with as much grace as I can muster.