Friday, May 3, 2013

Impermanence

the desert retreat house

Last evening I sat in the front courtyard of my desert retreat house and admired the home in which we live. We just had some painting done during the day,  and everything seemed to sparkle in the late day sun.

As I sat and looked at my home - my things, my possessions -  the wind began to pick up. In fact, this is the windy season in the deserts and mountains in this part of the country. The winds that blow in May are known as the "Santa Annas," and when they blow though the mountain canyons, they can gust over 60 m.p.h.

As I sat there yesterday observing all my beautiful things, the wind reminded me about what was going on just a few hours away from me at that very moment. The Santa Monica Mountains were on fire. Wind was sweeping through the canyons with almost hurricane force. The fire was like a blow torch incinerating everything in it's path. 

Many people had to evacuate from the raging wildfire. For some, their homes and property were saved, others were not so lucky.  One moment they were admiring what they had. Then the fires came, and in an instant it was all a pile of ash.

Buddhists teach that "impermanence" is a mark of existence. We may fool ourselves into thinking that this earthly existence is stable and unchanging, but everything is in flux - nothing remains forever. 

Our things and our cherished possessions are already turning into dust - our bodies are gradually decaying - our money in the bank won't  come along with us to the grave. Life on this earth is very impermanent. 

The fire sweeping through the mountain canyons reminded me of the impermanence of this earthly existence.  It taught me to be more careful about clinging too tightly to my things, to my possessions, to my life in general. 

I am reminded of a lighthearted story that comes out of the 4th century "Sayings" of the Desert Mothers and Fathers. The story is about a desert father- a monk by the name of Macarius:

When Macarius was living in Egypt, one day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his hut and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, Macarius went up to the thief and helped him load the beast, and then he sent him peaceably on his way.

Today I will try to cling less tightly to my life.  I will try to "lighten up," and embrace the world as it unfolds to me in the time yet remaining in my earthly existence.

Life  is impermanent.


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