The Gift and Curse of Impermanence

My mom’s yartzeit is tonight. She died 12 years ago this week, and in the Jewish tradition on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, we say a special prayer with our congregation and remember, and be fully present, with all the feelings of the love and the loss. It will be a sad time, when she died it was the biggest heartbreak of my life, I miss her every day, sometimes every minute. Even yesterday I wanted to pick up the phone and connect with her about an experience I had. I have no new pictures of her I haven’t already posted on facebook or in a blog… this breaks my heart again. But my pity party (one of my mom’s favorite sayings) is short-lived, as life would have it, this has been a very tough week for some of my closest people. A friend since 1996, was served with divorce papers by her husband of 26 years, 2 months after he left her to live with a new partner. Another friend since 2002, shockingly lost her dad just a few days ago after a very short battle with lung cancer. And last night, my 17-year-old niece, my brother and sister in law, lost their 11-month-old German Shepherd mix puppy to cancer after just a few days of illness. My heart is broken for all of my suffering loved ones! After spending the morning on the phone and sending messages of support and love, offering to help and knowing there is no real way to ease any of their sufferings, feeling depleted I turned to my overcrowded bookshelf to look for support. I searched through the teachings of Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Deepak Chopra, David Simon, and Patanjali, and finally, I began to find solace in the Buddhist concept of impermanence. According to Buddhism, impermanence is one of the fundamental attributes of life. I didn’t need to reach my bookshelf for that, how about the modern colloquialism, “nothing lasts forever?” Yoga philosophy, distilled down from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, teaches aparigraha; non-grasping or non-possessiveness. It’s the same idea, “you can’t take it with you.”

Why when I’m suffering, and in this case looking for strength so I can support my suffering loved ones, do I go to my bookshelf? Because I believe we are here in this lifetime for a reason and that is to learn. Of course, I usually talk about joy and love as our birthright and our purpose, I teach about how loss can lead to growth and a deeper more fulfilling life, but when people are suffering the crisis of a recent heartbreak, it’s a pretty big stretch to talk about joy and love and the blessings to come from recent tragedy.

So today, I focus on impermanence and support my mental/emotional body with the teachings of Patanjali, interpreted beautifully in The Yamas and Niyamas, a book by Deboarah Adele.

I’m writing because it is healing, if I can support myself right now, then I can be stronger for my suffering loved ones, if I sit on my couch and cry about how sad this all is, and I will if I need the release, but it won’t help me help them immediately. I’m writing because I want to share this knowledge, to release our grasp on what we can’t control is one of the keys to living a stress-free life. Aparigraha, non-grasping, non-possessiveness, is the yama that is supporting me at this time. This is a tough concept which I was first exposed to in my early yoga teacher training days. I wasn’t able to put it into practice, however, until I was forced to go on the most difficult journey of my life after my second husband’s suicide. I spent several grieving years in deep study of everything I could find to explain my suffering, experience, and existence. Release our grasp. It is tricky footing to find, the ability to love something deeply, but not step into possessiveness. Ultimately, we own nothing. When we leave our bodies, all the stuff, including relationships, we have accumulated stays here. Impermanence, because it is ubiquitous and inevitable, should be a simple, obvious, concept. But like so many things in life, it takes work to get to the reward.

Working on the concept and acceptance of impermanence is very difficult. Like meditation, it goes smoothly sometimes, and other times it is painfully challenging. I’ll keep working on it, and I’ll keep sharing my practices in the hope that sharing will help lessen others’ suffering. If I share these concepts in a way that makes them clearer than they have been before… maybe it will help soften challenges in life and increase joy!

What about the gift? The curse seems obvious, but where is the gift in not really having anything? It’s in the now. It’s in being and appreciating where you are. Look around, now is really all we have! We don’t know what will happen in an hour or next week or next year. Of course, we have to plan for those things, but we need to bring as much of ourselves as possible into our current lives, I mean the right now life! Is your cat yelling at you for pets or your dog or child wanting to play while you’re reading this? GO PLAY! As you are reading this article, if your dad didn’t die this week, if your dog didn’t die last night, if you are still with your long-time spouse or partner, REJOICE. Embrace the now, focus your thoughts and actions on the joy happening in your life today, at this moment.

How do you do this, when you are so used to living in the past or worrying about the future? Practice. Here’s an example from this morning:

My practice this morning: I supported my friends who are suffering via text and phone, then, as I began to feel depleted and sad, I reminded myself that there is always joy around! I sent a message to my friend who had his first child a couple of months ago and got a new picture of the happy daddy and baby smiling. I let myself fully enjoy the smiles, the love, the newness and the perfection of this picture. Then, I sent a message to my friend who is embarking on the Seattle to Portland bike ride this weekend, a monumental task 200+ miles in two days and she is anxious and excited about it. And then, I sat to write my thoughts and feelings. I write to share, I write to heal, I write to send healing to everyone who reads this article. I write for my students and clients because the more tools I have to heal myself, the more powerful I am to guide others to healing.

With so much love, light, joy and gratitude,

Michelle Ann Collins

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