by Nanc Nesbitt
Among all the plowing of the fields, the autumn turning is the greatest.
Among all footprints, the elephant’s is the greatest.
Among all ideas, impermanence and death are the greatest,
Because they eliminate all desire, ignorance and pride of the three worlds.
As I sit in a chair in my room looking out the window watching the morning sky, I am remembering one of the many dharma teachings I have received from Venerable Chodron many times. There is nothing in our conventional universe that does not change moment by moment. Everything arises, abides and then ceases. And even as I watch the fleeting clouds and the changing light of this one event, the weather, there are inconceivable numbers of impermanent phenomena coming into existence, lasting awhile and then ceasing simultaneously across the cosmos.
From the smallest quark to the biggest star, all without exception follow this trajectory. If I’m paying attention at all during my day, the fleeting nature of everything around me including myself, stares me in the face constantly. There’s no way around it. And what is even more outrageously true is that death is certain but the time of death uncertain. This also stares me in the face. And there’s no way around this one either.
Both are vast in their unflinching truth. So much so that for the most part I live in deep denial and dismissive complacency about both.
So as I watch the clouds race across the sky and the sun cast it’s shadow on the garden, I decide to spend 30 minutes making a list of just a few of my own experiences of impermanence and death that occur on any given “normal” day in my life at the Abbey:
- The mouse that drowned in the water bucket
- Jan found a large shoulder bone of maybe a bear, on a walk a few weeks ago.
- The fur in the coyote scat
- The old homestead leaning like the tower of Pisa down the road
- The plans and projects for tomorrow
- Old split rail fences missing, broken, or falling down
- The water in the birdbaths
- The moon
- Achala and Manjushri, the Abbey cats.
- My whole body and my mind
- The speed of my prostrations
- The fir trees succumbing to a root disease – last year green, this year brown
- The ants that Ach ate
- Friend, enemy and stranger
- The visitors to the Abbey
- The microwave, the dishwasher and the hot water heater
- The dead deer on the side of the road
- My inbox
I could continue and make a rather long list. These ordinary events are very profound examples of the way of all things in this little world of mine. And if I hold onto these things and events as if they lasted just I see them- in that moment unchanging- then suffering, disappointment and dissatisfaction inevitably arise when they do end or change. If you want to know what makes you unhappy, even miserable, pay attention to how you perceive all the things in your life- especially the mundane, everyday things, as unchanging, permanent and lasting.
Watch the disappointment in your mind (as well as the anger!) the next time the deer get into your garden or the slugs devastate your favorite hosta, or that weekend garden project you’ve been waiting weeks to do gets rained out. Feel the intense grief when your dear old cat finally passes on or a beautiful red tail hawk dies after flying into your house window hunting down a chipmunk. It’s not just the big things in our life that arise, abide and cease.
The deaths of loved ones, intimate relationships and our work life always catch our attention. Try to see the death and impermanence of the small things and work on letting go of your expectations and assumptions about them as practice for the big stuff. It’s a practice of paying attention and slowing your life down enough to notice these profound truths surrounding us starting from our backyards out into the galaxies beyond our own. You will be touched I bet, and your eyes will open to your life in a whole new fresh way…