- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday our baby grandson turned 1-year-old, it didn’t seem possible that a year had already passed since that beautiful little baby was born. As I contemplated the swift passing of time, I happened to look up beyond my desk to a collage of family pictures, and there in the midst of all the photos was a picture of our son, our grandbaby’s daddy, when he was about 1-year-old, talk about how swiftly time goes by!
Yesterday as I gazed at the picture of a little baby boy who is now the father of his own child, it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t so much aware of how quickly time passes; rather I was keenly aware of how everything is always changing. It struck me that the moment that picture of our son was taken back all those many years ago, he was already someone else, already on his way to becoming a daddy himself. I also realized that our grandson didn’t actually turn 1-year-old yesterday; rather he was now on his way to his second birthday and, in a flash and before he knows it, he will also be a daddy with a family of his own.
The Buddha taught:
Everything is impermanent.
When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.
Most of the time we fool us unto thinking that our lives are permanent, stable and controllable. People buy homes, build careers, and plan futures. As they age some people try to preserve their youth by attempting to look as young as possible, perhaps trying to stop the effects of the passage of time. Many of us do our very best to freeze time or to manipulate it so that the world will operate according to our own agenda; but permanence is a myth, everything and everyone is not only changing, everything is a process of constant change. Once we realize and embrace this truth we can indeed “turn away from suffering” by enjoying what “is” rather than wringing our hands over how swiftly time passes or spending all our days building our empires that will quickly turn to dust.
As the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said
Nothing endures but change.
For me, there is perhaps no place better in the world to discern something of the impermanence of life than by living out here in the desert. The desert actually looks like an unchanging place that has been around forever - not true. The desert is a “wild place” that changes every day. In the matter of a few moments a storm can come over the mountains and clear skies turn dark with swirling sand, then suddenly clear skies come back. A few days ago I noticed that, almost overnight, the budding spring wildflowers have already yielded to the dry summer sands and sage bushes.
I have learned, for example, that if I want to get a picture of one of the many cactus flowers that bloom in our garden, I pretty much have to take the picture within a day or two of when they blossom because many of these flowers last about a day. The hot baking sun quickly dries them up and before you know it they are gone. I have also learned that instead of just looking at a picture of a cactus flower that had once blossomed, it is far more enjoyable to gaze at the actual flower when it comes into bloom.
The desert is a place of excruciating beauty, but it is an impermanent and fleeting beauty, ever-changing and uncontrollable - such is the nature of life. The lesson I learn here is that I can’t control a wild world of constant change, so I try not to cling to it, just enjoy it, take it all in when it happens and then let it go because it has already become something else.
I am reminded of another teaching attributed to the Buddha:
This existence of ours is as transient as the clouds,
to watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lighting in the sky
rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain.
Buddhist teacher and author, Alan Watts, once wisely observed:
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it,
move with it, join the dance.