We realize everyone is experiencing the same impermanence that we are. This is one Buddhist insight I hang on to. It feels comforting.
These are not my words. They were written by Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of the deeply moving Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness, which explores grieving her father’s death.
Reading just a few pages of her book moved me the way Hawai’i’s own Iam Thongi did as I watched his make-or-break audition for American Idol three months ago.
It was good enough to advance him into the competition, which he went on to win this week.
Just like Kathryn does in her touching prose, Iam does with his voice and genuine presence. They both miss their dads and have the courage to lay it all out for us to witness.
I canʻt help thinking about the historical Buddha, who again and again emphasized the importance of “seeing” impermanence, which he defined simply as:
the changing nature of all conditioned phenomena
In a well-known teaching, he said that living just one day clearly seeing impermanence is more spiritually uplifting than living a hundred years not having even a glimpse.
It’s a doorway to liberation, he claims, to the deepest peace and happiness.
Listening to Iam sing and reading Kathryn’s words- well, they may know nothing of the classical teachings on impermanence, but that just attests to the universality of the teaching.
Here are a few Kathryn’s words:
Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories; the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness,
Iam’s dad, Kathyn’s dad, my own dad long gone, and the dad I am to my kids; well, my words start to trail off here.
I need a moment…
Really getting this in our marrow helps us to develop compassion for others. We realize everyone is experiencing the same impermanence that we are. This is one Buddhist insight I hang on to. It feels comforting.
We may understand impermanence intellectually, as in a high school physics class, but when I listen to Iam sing, I realize it’s a matter of the heart, not the head.
And as Kathryn writes:
Nothing about that is strange or surprising; it is the fundamental, unalterable nature of things. The astonishment is all in the being here. It is the turtle in the pond, the thought in the mind, the falling star, the stranger on Main Street.Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness,
Yes, the astonishment is all in the being here… in the listening here. In the tasting and smelling here. Maybe even in the reading here.
This liberation the Buddha talked about comes from a direct seeing of change as it’s actually happening on a moment to moment micro-scale in our bodies and in our mind.
This is the “insight” part of insight meditation.
I canʻt get enough of Kathrtyn’s words, speaking here about loss:
Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days. Our crossing is a brief one, best spent bearing witness to all that we see: honoring what we find noble, tending what we know needs our care, recognizing that we are inseparably connected to all of it, including what is not yet upon us, including what is already gone. We are here to keep watch, not to keep.Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness,
Iam Thongi melted my heart this week. My path is to watch for all that tries to harden it, to stiffen it, to make it conform.
In the words of the feminist writer Rita Mae Brown:
The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself
I think Iam, Kathryn, and the Buddha would agree.
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