Impermanence Revisited

Tulips and Bluebells
Tulips and Bluebells

Here in Pennsylvania the tulips are in various stages of maturity. The beautiful yellow ones in front of my house dried up and blew away, while the others are somewhere near the end of their life cycle.

I found these in a local park and they seem to be in their prime, but in a few weeks they will be gone forever-dust to dust. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older or maybe I just notice it more, but things seem to move a lot faster now.

Watching the flowers come and go is also watching the days speed by, and I know I’m running out of time. Of course this is how life works; we’re here for a while and then we’re gone. And whether we acknowledge it or not, suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are.

W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge has a great perspective on impermanence: “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”

Along the way, take time to smell the flowers, in as many ways as you can for as long as you can.

A Tale Told By an Idiot?

Bleeding hearts
Bleeding hearts

In Macbeth Shakespeare writes: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I have to admit that I’ve felt that way before, as most people probably have when they realize that they aren’t going to live forever. A tale told by an idiot seems a bit strong though, and if Shakespeare were around today he would probably get a prescription for Prozac, but I digress.

After a light rain I went to a garden full of flowers and trees in a nearby park, which in itself is something very special, and I noticed that the bleeding hearts were starting to bloom.

Walking down to a small pond with a waterfall, I looked at them as if they were something new to me, because they were. In a few weeks they will be completely gone, and they will come back next spring whether I’m there to see them or not.

Watching these absolutely amazing flowers I remembered the feeling I used to get after washing down a couple of Xanax with a glass of Vodka. It was a feeling of calmness, and I knew that even though the tale doesn’t last, I like to be here when I can.

I no longer need drugs and alcohol to get that feeling, a walk in the garden can do it in a heartbeat. If life signifies nothing, so be it, its only going to be a short walk anyway.

From the Boat to the Box

Death
Death

One of the mind training slogans called Lojong, brought to Tibet by Buddhist teacher Atisha is: “Regard all dharma as dreams.” Well that’s nice isn’t it, it’s like rowing your boat gently down the stream, but what exactly does this mean?

Pema Chodron explains it like this: “Simply, regard everything as a dream. Life is a dream. Death is also a dream, for that matter; waking is a dream and sleeping is a dream.” As simply as she put it, we just went from the little man in the boat to the old man in the box.

Eckhart Tolle said: “Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to die before you die-and find that there is no death.” This is the type of thing that every junkie will understand clearly, but what about those rare people that aren’t leading lives of quiet desperation?

The way I see it, at the end of our life we will realize that we could have done things differently, we could have done more with the time that we had. We don’t have to wait for that day.

Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da. Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da. Sh-boom, sh-boom, ya-da-da-da-da-da, Sh-boom.

Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Someday

I'll quit tomorrow
I’ll quit tomorrow

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.

But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” Lauren Oliver-Before I Fall

The Charnel Grounds of Columbia

Motorcycle Charnel Grounds
Motorcycle Charnel Grounds

Sometimes you find yourself in a strange place, and then try to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning to be found in the experience. So it was when I found myself in the motorcycle charnel grounds on the second floor of The Cycle Den in Columbia.

It was a depressing place, as I imagine the charnel grounds in Tibet are with the giant vultures, but depressing in a different way. I looked at those old machines and saw the people that once owned and loved them.

These now decaying bikes represented freedom, adventure and escape. I remembered the quote by Hafiz: “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”

It is said that the Buddha encouraged his students to meditate in the charnel grounds as a way of releasing the ultimate attachment: the attachment to one’s body and to this life itself. So despite the overwhelming sadness, I stayed to reflect on the impermanence of all things, and how the pursuit of pleasure is a paradox.

Dan Aykroyd once said: “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” This may or may not be true, but having sold mine last fall I am now back in therapy.

I drive there in my SUV with the radio on and the feeling of safety that comes with four wheels and airbags. It’s as close to feeling alive as playing virtual golf, with a virtual caddie and drinking a virtual martini.

Life and Death at Lititz Springs Park

Gone but not forgotten
Gone but not forgotten

I was reading the Lancaster newspaper this morning, and saw an article about a duckling in Lititz Springs Park with an Instagram photo by Brian J. Wilson titled Quack! I figured it was from last year because they usually don’t show up until April, so I took a ride to the pond to see for myself.

I walked around and didn’t see anything until I got to the end, then saw a tiny ball of yellow fur floating around in deep water. A woman walked by and asked if it was real, and said he was probably abandoned, would likely die today, and that it was very sad.

It was 25 degrees and the water must have been even colder, so I reached in and pulled him out. He was struggling but I thought he would recover and took a quick photo. Gently moving him away from the ledge, I watched to see if he would shake it off and waddle away, but he didn’t.

There was nothing I could do so I watched him for a few minutes and saw that he was quickly dying. The woman was right, he would die today and it was very sad.

I thought about not posting this photo but it’s a reminder of how fragile life is, and how quickly it can end. There’s really nothing more to say.

The Window of Opportunity

The Window of Opportunity
The Window of Opportunity

You’ve probably heard the phrase “tomorrow is promised to no one,” quoted by many people including Clint Eastwood. I know it, you know it, and the Priest, the Rabbi, and the tiny pianist in the bar know it. But knowing and believing are two different things.

Simply put, there is a very limited amount of time to do the things that you really want to do, to take advantage of all the opportunities you get. Robin Sharma, a Canadian writer best known for The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari wrote:

“Each day, life will send you little windows of opportunity. Your destiny will ultimately be defined by how you respond to these windows of opportunity. Shrink from them and your life will be small, feel the fear and run to them anyway, and you life will be big. Life’s just too short to play little.”

So you gotta ask yourself one question, and its not do I feel lucky. The question is; do you have the balls to go for it, knowing that in reality there is really nothing to lose? Well, do ya, punk? Do I?

Photographic Memories

Circa 1962
Circa 1962

This is a photograph of my mother in her early thirties on a trip we took to Taconic State Park in 1962. She is not that person now at 86, and in a way she is.

In her dining room there is another old photo of me at age 2 and a half. I’m sitting with my favorite teddy bear, wearing a sailor suit, and look as happy as a clam, and I ask myself who that person is.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh addressed this in his book No Death, No fear: “I have a photograph of myself when I was a boy of sixteen. Is it a photograph of me? I am not really sure. Who is this boy in the photograph? Is it the same person as me or is it another person?”

“The body of the boy in the photograph is not the same as my body, now that I am in my seventies. The feelings are different, and the perceptions are very different. It is just as if I am a completely different person from that boy, but if the boy in the photograph did not exist, then I would not exist either.”

He goes on to say: “You would not cry if you knew that by looking deeply into the rain you would still see the cloud.”

Note to self: reread this book and get a new rain jacket.