Impermanence (written 2014)

04/09/2014 09:08

Even if we'd rather not believe the calendar, and if we choose to ignore the school buses back on the roads, it's almost impossible to get through the day right now without at least a sweater, and maybe a pair of socks. Fall has arrived. Green is still the predominant color in the landscape, but its tone is changing. Sliding towards brown and yellow by tiny degrees.


I haven't had a garden for a number of years now. But I do love to plant big patio pots in celebration when spring arrives and I tend to these lovingly throughout the growing season. Pretty much every morning I water them, turning the pots to keep gowth even, clipping dead leaves and flower heads. This year I also apologized to them for the havoc wrecked upon them by my playing puppy and kitten, who themselves are growing rapidly and may be more considerate by next year.


This little ritual is a pleasure. But it is also practice. While I'm working I chant. If I'm alone I do this outloud, if I'm in company I do it in my head. The chant I use is one that is common on retreats, a teaching about impermanence. It has a “tune” to it that I wish I could capture here but the words go like this:

"All things are impermanent.

They arise and they pass away.

To be in harmony with this truth,

Brings peace."


What at first glance may seem like a mournful message, is actually incredibly multi-faceted. I find that repeating this chant often has made it an instinctive default setting for my heart-mind. It is of great assistance in the daily life task of letting go. Letting go of what is delicious, the pleasures and joys of life. And letting go of what is warm, the security and safety we all seek, for ourselves and those we love. It is a truth that our own experience validates over and over. The flower heads that opened from tight buds to surprising points of beauty, one by one droop, wither, and dry. So too each of us. Through the summer I clip the old with a gentle hand and admire the new, lifting petals and paying attention to the butterflies, beetles and bees who appreciate them too.


This time of year, there are only a few new buds to see, and some of these won't ever open and realize their promise. The nights are cold. For awhile, shuffling the pots in and out of the garage at night allows me to prolong their lives, but one night I will forget, be away, or just decide enough is enough. All things are impermanent.


Many years ago I took a particular sorrow to a wise monk during an interview on retreat. This sorrow seemed to fill my life then. I could see no way past it. I was an ant at the foot of a mountain of misery. His advice was not what I expected. He suggesed that I add what are called the “Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection” to my daily practice. The part that began to speak to me was this:

"All that is mine

Beloved and pleasing

Will become otherwise

Will become separate from me."


Trusting my teacher's wisdom,and taking on this practice, I found the mountain crumbling. It was not that I got through it but that I saw it for the mirage it was. This was no unique and singular sorrow, visited unfairly on me. It was only the truth. I was not expected not to love, not to be pleased. But rather to know that what I loved and what pleased me could not last. To know this deeply for the universal experience it is. This knowing gives urgency and brightness to this moment. And peace to the heart.