Thursday, June 14, 2012

Musings on Impermanence and Living in the Present

That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything--every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate--is always changing, moment to moment. -Pema Chodron

Walking to the volcano in Nicaragua
Life can change in an instant. Of this, there is no doubt. If I didn't subscribe to this notion consciously before Matthew died, I now count it as one of my most unshakeable truths. Nothing stays the same in nature, so why should it in life?  I think by letting go of the notion that life has to go a certain way, we in turn are better able to go with life's flow. Or maybe a better way to say it is rather than trying to think we have control over our lives, we should allow our lives to have control over us. It's how we react to change that matters anyway.

In my grief, I've been given the opportunity to pause and look at the deeper questions of my life. I have actually found the thought of life's impermanence to be oddly comforting. What strikes me is that it comes down to living in the present, not the past or the future. After Matthew died, my husband and I took a series of meditation classes. In one of the classes, the teacher asked us to think about if we were past thinkers, present thinkers or future thinkers. I had never really given that much thought and quickly realized that I was a future thinker. I realized that I was always planning ahead, making "To Do" lists and thinking about tomorrow, rather than today. The result was that I was missing out on a lot of the present. So since then, I've tried to make an effort to think in the present--to just BE in the now. It's not always easy, but when I do it, I find that one of the byproducts is that I'm so much more grateful. Mindfulness heightens my awareness of life-both its preciousness, as well as its fragility.

One thing I've noticed that works for keeping me in the present is savoring the moment through my senses. When I make an attempt to savor things through taste (a good piece of dark chocolate), smell (challah in the oven), hearing (birds in the morning), touch (the feel of flannel sheets on a cold night) or sight (a particularly stunning sunrise) I feel tethered to the moment. My thoughts don't wander forward or backward. It may sound strange, but savoring things helps keep me centered. I've also found that it's not such a difficult thing to incorporate a little savoring into your daily routine. 

So to end these rambling musings, here's a quote from one of my favorite "grief books"  called Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet M. Kumar. My copy is pretty dog-eared, as I've kept it close at hand over the past year. There's a lot in it that is applicable to all different types of loss/grief. Anyway, this quote spoke to me the first time I read it, and continues to speak to me today.

Mindfulness is an awareness that arises as we pay attention to purpose, nonjudgmentally, to unfolding experience in the present moment. The way of paying attention is crucial. Mindfulness is sensitive, warm, friendly, compassionate and allowing. Mindful attention does not try to change what is happening. Instead, it reflects--accurately and precisely. Being mindful means being a witness to, and connecting consciously with whatever elements of our life that are present now, in this moment. 


  1. Robin, you have done it again! So beautifully written...i can hear the birds singing, taste the rich chocolate, feel the soft flannel...L'Chaim

  2. hey robin. I've got a book you might enjoy. "Time and the Art of Living" by Robert Grudin. While all we have is the present moment, here is what he says about list makers, such as yourself (and me):
    "We alternately envy, praise, despise and tease those unusual people who plan ahead, who keep precise calendars of when they will be where, seeing whom and doing what. Yet in all these posturings we tend to ignore a benefit of their behavior which is at once the simplest and the most spiritual. They can escape despair. They have cast tow-lines out to the future and can, when necessary, drag themselves through a becalmed and stormy present. And they have peopled the wilderness of things to come with images of themselves in action or relaxation or festive attire."
    Each day, i try to accomplish five things. I keep the list in a little book and as i do each thing, i check it off. They are the same five things each day. Doing so, i know my day will have purpose and that i will feel i have not wasted my time. And later, when i am doing nothing--also important--i don't feel bad about it. It's a funny way to live in the present, perhaps. But it does keep me both wired for being in the present (as i perform each action) and keeps me looking forward to my future--an escape from depression, as Grudin says.
    As always, love reading your columns! xox

  3. Thank you Molly and Mary. I appreciate your comments and will definitely check out "Time and the Art of Living."

  4. Robin,
    So well said. I agree - being present opens us up to the simple and the beautiful around us - and also, I think within, by bringing peace and perspective.

    Thank you for sharing,
    love, Bobbie