Monday, April 18, 2011

Chicken v. Egg

Take a deep breath, folks, we're diving deep today...
Jack (Easter, 2003), in the good old days
when nap-time ruled.
   It's Springtime in the South and the world has turned chartreuse, seemingly overnight. Our drab, dormant landscape is alive again with buds and blossoms and new growth. It's the season of resurrection and rebirth. Easter. During this time of year we are shown that life is not a singular, linear existence. Indeed, we lives many lives and die many deaths within a lifetime. (Don't say I didn't warn you this entry was going to test your ear-pressure.) I'm riffing off of Buddhist belief in reincarnation, but this isn't exactly anything I've heard attributed directly to the Buddha. But when you think about this theory, it makes sense. "Why think about it?" you ask. Well, because reconceptualizing the standard conventions of impermanence and death may allow us to let go of anxiety. In theorem, the theory looks like this: Life minus anxiety = A happier, more compassionate life.  
   Embracing the fact that everything changes (impermanence) is a very Buddhist principle, which lies at the heart of finding peace within ourselves. It's a basic human reaction to be adverse to change. We are born with the desire for routine. As a parent, I realized this soon after bringing my newborn son home. All the "What to Expect" books advise creating and maintaining schedules for young children is central to their wellbeing; and children are slaves to their routines. When Jack was a baby, we stressed over keeping his nap time schedule intact—for our sakes and his. When he didn't nap or eat at the appointed hour, all hell broke loose. Of course, over the years, those nap times diminished and rigid mealtimes fell away. Today Jack would rather eat cauliflower than snooze in the middle of the afternoon, and eating is an activity that comes in last place after, well, just about any other activity, except sleeping. Yet, when he first refused to nap at 2 PM or proclaimed he wasn't hungry at noon, it rocked my world.
   Everything changes. Our resilience to the changes in our lives is dependent upon our past experience, our attachment to whatever is changing, and our emotional disposition. As adults, we grow comfortable with a set pattern in our lives, and become cranky when these familiar routines are disrupted. We become accustomed to having the ability to do certain things and go certain places. When your favorite restaurant is closed due to renovation, or you find you can no longer run five miles with ease, you get upset, even angry.
   In truth, we live in a world that has undergone dramatic changes since time began. It is only our limited perception that guards the status quo. On a microbiological-level, our very cells are changing right now—as they've done since we were born—though we blissfully unaware of it. Hair grows and falls out. Skin cells die and replenish, bone cells completely rejuvenate every seven years (yes, it's true!) and on and on. You are literally not the same person from moment to moment, and yet, we live day to day with the idea that the person who we perceive ourselves to be is static, fully-formed and definitive. Not so. Change is the only constant in our lives.
   Changes tend to happen so slowly that I don't notice them from day to day. But in truth, there are events happening right now that will shape my life in the weeks, months, years to come. No, I'm not aware of what those events are right now, but I am certain they are happening, just as I am certain that the Earth is rotating around the Sun, although I cannot feel its movement. I rock along in my groove until one day something occurs and the change manifests itself. My father dies. I lose your job. My child now longer requires my 24/7 attention. None of these events happened overnight. What appears to be a sudden change is actually an evolution of events, not predestined, but inevitable.
   The ability to step-back from your life and appreciate these changes is what we call perspective. At some point, you might realize that your life is profoundly different than it was a year or two ago. You may even feel like a different person because of what you've learned along the way. When you marry, for example, your life as a single person falls away and you embrace a new existence with your spouse. Parents know this feeling, too. You're happy as a couple, and then, after you have a child, you look at your pre-baby life and wonder what you did with your time before you had a child.
   Accepting, even embracing, change is central to one's wellbeing. Allowing our perception of what once was to die away, and celebrating the birth of whatever comes next can be difficult. We want our bodies to remain supple and lovely; our children to stay sweet and dependent; our careers to follow a upward trajectory; our parents to simply always be there for us. This, of course, is unrealistic, and it hinders our ability to appreciate whatever our "next life" might be. When we cling to the status quo, we are limiting our ability for happinesses and growth. Yet, when we feel we've hit the proverbial "wall" and feel life has stalled out, lost all meaning, taken a wrong turn at the Texaco, that's when change or growth is most likely to manifest. Lama Deshek, the Tibetan teacher at the Losel Maitri Buddhist Center,  recently said, "Whenever you find yourself saying, 'I don't know what to do now,' you are probably at a point where you have a great opportunity for growth and change." By this he means, that when you've finally shrugged your shoulders and let go of the sense that your life is set in stone, you are open for whatever comes next. Letting go and accepting change marks the death of the illusion that life is static. In shedding whatever it was you held tight—a job, a relationship, an image of yourself, a time in your life—you are opening yourself up for the growth that will most certainly blossom, and in that way, you are reborn. Everything fades, falls away, decays to make way for new growth...and life, after life.

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