- At the Desert Retreat House -
I recently came across a “letter to the editor” in our local paper that was fraught with angst and anxiety over the chaos and unrest in today’s national and global culture. The letter posed a question about whether or not our “changing” society (especially American democracy) is becoming undone, unmoored and unraveled? While I can certainly understand why a question like that might be raised in light of all the chaos of the past year, it also made me wonder if perhaps “unravelling” is such a bad thing? As I see it, “chaos” along with “constant change” are inherent in all life and unravelling may be an opportunity for new growth to emerge.
The Buddha taught:
Everything is impermanent,
when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.
I find great truth in this ancient wisdom.
Today’s scientists tell us that everything and everyone, from tiniest little quark to the massive array of multiple universes, is always in a process of becoming something else. Everything that exists is a swirling mass of energy that is dynamically and constantly changing.
Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chodron, puts it this way:
That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeing and impermanent
is the first mark of existence.
Everything is in process,
every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings and buildings,
the animate and the inanimate –
always changing, moment to moment.
As I think about it, who and what I was only yesterday had already become undone, unmoored and unraveled by the time I woke up this morning. Over the last 24 hours my body has changed, old cells have died away and new cells grown. My mind has also changed, everything that happened to me yesterday changed me, the people I encountered throughout the day changed me, the emails I read, watching the “Superbowl” on TV, the political rhetoric I heard, all of it changed me. It unraveled who I had been and fashioned me into something new and different from what I was before.
And yes, of course the world, our society, our American democracy has changed from what it had once been, but then again it has always been changing because nothing ever stays the same.
The idea of “constantly changing” and “becoming unraveled” is usually quite a scary concept for most of us. We would much rather see everything as permanent and fixed because somehow this makes us believe we have more control over our lives - our ego tricks us into believing the myth of permanence. If our lives are something like a machine with parts, then all we need do is push some buttons and manipulate the parts and the the world will move along according to our own planned agenda. But if everything and everyone is a process of ongoing, dynamic change, we are forced to hand over our rigid control and instead embrace the world as it comes to us - new every morning.
The Buddha taught that a recognition of impermanence turns us away from suffering - I think this is very true. A recognition of impermanence helps me to focus on each and every moment, realizing that what was no longer is and what will be has not yet come. So I pay attention to the surprises of every single moment of every single day in a world that never stays the same and in doing so I find my deepest peace.
Priest and author Richard Rohr talks about the value of falling apart and becoming unmoored on a spiritual path:
Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then
leaving us off balance and askew.
In this uncomfortable space we can finally recognize
the much larger Kingdom of God.
I wonder what today will bring?