Sunday, October 19, 2008

Impermanence in Action

Fall in Northern Vermont is a spectator sport. People from around the country and the world come to view our spectacular colors. These leaf peepers (or leapers as I like to call them) marvel at the fireworks display of the Green Mountains, now orange, yellow, and red. The leaves are falling now and the last display of colors is waning. This season shows what is present around us at all times. This dramatic show makes it easier to appreciate the nature of impermanence. I find this to be a poignant time. My appreciation of the beauty is tinged with a mixture of awe and sadness. Change is upon us, and winter is close on its heels. There are still leaves on the trees outside my window, but they'll soon be gone. Each day we grow older and one day closer to death. Each hour and each minute too. Each breath. This may sound morbid, but it is not meant to be. If we can appreciate this passing, perhaps we'll be more appreciative of life. Perhaps we can appreciate the gift that life is and be present to it.  

The passing of the season makes my awareness of the suffering of loved ones more poignant too. A beloved friend has been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. My grandmother has been critically ill in the hospital. This, too, is impermanence in action. The difficulty appreciating change, I think, stems from our imposition of agendas onto experience. These agendas are mostly subtle and hidden, yet pervasive. We always want or expect things to be a certain way. I want my experience to be just so; I want my circumstances to be just so. When they are not dissatisfaction arises. A lack of agendas opens the way for interest to arise. If we don't have an agenda, a need for things to be just so, we can take interest in what actually is. If we can be interested we circumvent dissatisfaction. I tried to convey this sensibility to my mindfulness students at UVM last week. We did an hour long meditation and everyone was asked to resist the temptation to move. This instruction creates a crucible to examine our ceaseless agendas. We want entertainment, comfort, and the freedom to move about. How difficult is it to relinquish these agendas for one hour out of life? As we went through the practice, they were encouraged to examine the nature of concepts like restlessness, impatience, and boredom. We had the opportunity to touch the nature of discomfort, and even pain. We could see how "deconstructing" these concepts opens a space of perfection. Perfection is the place where interest makes seamless contact with what is present. There are no agendas to get in the way and no room for suffering or dissatisfaction to arise. 

Things are perfect in their imperfection. This notion of perfection is not meant to encourage passive resignation to "imperfect" conditions. We can certainly work towards making things better. As Shunryu Suzuki said: "Everything is perfect, but there is much room for improvement." When we work towards change we respect the present and try to relinquish agendas that get in the way of realizing what we are trying to achieve. Many of these agendas revolve around impermanence. If we try to resist the changing of nature of things, we are caught being perfectionistic, which is anathema to perfection. The change of the season embodies perfection. 


Barry said...

We are in late fall up here in Waterloo. The leaves are almost down and the nights are below freezing. It feels like what Roshi Bernie refers to as the time to clean up before the preparation of what will be the supreme meal of our lives. Wonderful to notice the changes inside and out, isn't it?


Ellie said...

"Everything is perfect, but there is much room for improvement." Pataphysics?

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