A friend of mine is dying as I write this. She’s been a friend for 15 years and she’s always been strong and beautiful and graceful. Today I saw her for the first time in a few months. She was heavily sedated on morphine and looked small and frail and a shadow of her former self. Where did the other person go? Why is she not there anymore? Where is this person going – and when?
We will all face death and most of us, if we’ve lived long enough, will be touched by it directly. Death brings with her so many gifts – not the least of which is the reminder that nothing, and I mean nothing, is permanent.
And yet, for me (I don’t know about you), I want things to remain the same so many times in my life. I want you to remain exactly as you are, dear friend. I want to know you will call me again. I want to know you will be there for me time and again and that I can be there for you time and again.
What I crave is… permanence. That sense of control over events and certainty that nothing will change. This is my confession.
Can you relate?
The Dalai Lama tells us: “Impermanence is chosen as a worthy object of meditation in Buddhism because, although we may understand it intellectually, we mostly do not behave as though we have integrated this awareness. A combination of analysis and concentration on this topic brings the insight to life so that we appreciate the preciousness of every moment of our experience.”
To live as if you will never see someone you love again is hard work. At least it seems hard work to me, a mere mortal who has not yet mastered the art and practice of impermanence.
One Buddhist precept that may help is the idea of taking “refuge”- to find comfort – in the fact that everything is uncertain. We simply do not know how things will turn out ever. We do not know what will happen from one minute to the next, really. If we contemplate that fact, the Buddhists tell us, we can develop an inner flexibility to respond to situations as they appear. In this way, we prepare our heart – which can then be ready for change that comes as surely as the rushing river.
Transitioning from this reality to one we can never understand from this vantage point, is a big change. It is the ultimate change. Will I hurt when my friend dies? Oh, I know I will. Will I want to honour her life by cultivating a deeper appreciation and practice of the principle of impermanence?
Yes I will.
What do you think?