Monday, February 16, 2009


If we are not empty, we become a block of matter. We cannot breathe, we cannot think. To be empty means to be alive, to breathe in and to breathe out. We cannot be alive if we are not empty. Emptiness is impermanence, it is change. We should not complain about impermanence, because without impermanence, nothing is possible.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddha's Five Remembrances

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Oddly enough, watching Planet Earth makes me think about impermanence. The life that animals live on this earth can be brutal, and yet they seem peaceful. For us humans, living so close to death is terrifying. We spend our lives trying to deny change, illness and death. For many animals, brushes with death are a daily occurrence and yet they seem to accept them in a way we have not. Perhaps in distancing ourselves from death, we have done the human race a disservice. I'm not sure. It is difficult to judge without being able to get inside an animal's head somehow.

Talking with a friend recently about the death of someone she knew, I thought of the five remembrances (above). We spend much of our time putting these five things out of our mind. This is the root of all of our grief, the realization that our illusion of permanence is just that, an illusion, a mere fairy tale. I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to come to terms with these five things. This is heavy stuff. You can't just snap your fingers and be OK with it.

Shortly after my long-term relationship ended last fall, I took a workshop with Laura Tyree at the Ojai Yoga Crib. The theme of last year's Crib was the Queen of Hearts "GROW". How appropriate for me. The Crib is always appropriate, always exactly what I need. The universe is an amazing place.

Laura asked me two questions about my break-up: (1) What good has come of it, what have I learned from it? It has deepened my practice, and (2) What do I fear? Loneliness. Then she said, "When you feel that loneliness, turn into it. It is a divine loneliness. We are all seeking God."

Hmmm... I take "God" in a non-denominational way here to mean universality, the interconnectedness of all beings in this universe. And indeed, perhaps this is what we are all seeking. I have been thinking about Laura's words a lot, about how if you sink into the loneliness and stay present in it, you might find what it is that connects all of us. You might find the essence of what it means to be truly alive.

As I am making my way towards the other side of grief, it occurs to me that Thich Nhat Hanh is right (as usual), in his gently humorous way. I love this line: "We should not complain about impermanence, because without impermanence, nothing is possible." Without old age, illness, death, loss and change, nothing is possible. I am trying to sit with this knowledge, over and over. I am considering seeking out the loneliness and dancing with it, just to see what happens.

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