My mother pointed me to a short piece on mindfulness meditation excerpted from Jack Kornfield‘s work (it probably came from one of his books, such as The Path of Insight Meditation).
He spends several paragraphs writing about the dharma of wisdom and about impermanence, quoting a Buddhist sutra “Thus shall you think of this fleeting world.” He notes that when meditating, one is more likely to realize that everything around us is in a state of change. It’s more noticeable, this changing, because the person meditating has become still and is observing closely.
Change is dharma’s first law: uncertainty and impermanence. The laws of science bear this out; entropy, evolution, constant change and motion everywhere.
Kornfield then does a good job of explaining to Westerners what Buddhists mean when they say “all life is suffering.”
“This brings us to dharma’s second law. If we want things that are always changing to stay the same and to get attached to them, we get disappointed, we suffer. Not because we should suffer–this is not something created to punish us. It is the very way things are, as basic as gravity. If we get attached to something the way it is, it does not stop changing, Trying to hold onto ‘how it was’ will only create suffering and disappointment.”
What could be clearer? We know we cannot wrestle a person or a place to the ground and pin it in place and have it remain unchanging for us. Without change, nothing can live.
What upsets people is that they are uncomfortable with the insecure feelings change tends to bring. Also, there’s that tendency to look for cause and effect, for blame, for control and certainty.
Thinking about thinking–as I have been lately–and consciousness and, to some extent, fear, I recognize I need to “relax with uncertainty.” That’s how Kornfield puts it. he says there is wisdom in insecurity because it is natural.
“Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring for them in a flexible and wise way,” Kornfield writes. Sometimes, when I feel content and relaxed and able to “let go” of nagging and difficult and scary and challenging things, loved ones ask me whether I care or not. I do care. I recognize, though, that there are times no amount of caring can “fix” a problem. Sometimes, acceptance and encouragement and letting go work much better than controlling intervention.
A great deal of my poetry begins in a flexible, accepting “space” that recognizes, and embraces, uncertainty. I wish I could find myself in this Way more often.
thank you, ann, your post was timely. all roads seem to lead to buddhism lately.
I have to agree with Kimberly, buddhism often seems to be the best way these days.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately: how it is that letting go isn’t the same as not caring. Kornfield has found a great way of formulating the challenge when he says: “Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring for them in a flexible and wise way.”
Thank you Ann – for sharing!
Oddly, my mother just told me that she was talking with a friend of hers who has been reading, I think, Kabat-Zinn–and my mother said her (mostly elderly) peers “seem to be more and more in tune with the idea of mindfulness.”
Does it take Westerners until their 80s before they can learn flexibility? (just when the joints stiffen up irrevocably 🙂 ).
“Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring for them in a flexible and wise way.” I too love this. In some accounts of Buddhism I’ve come across, it seems like I’m supposed to not care about anything, or anyone. Makes me think of a story I just heard from a friend who has terminal cancer: her friend said to her doctor, “I just love Jenny!” and the doctor said, “Don’t do that! All the good ones die!” First of all, what a terrible thing to say to a patient’s friend. But from the doctor’s perspective, it must be very difficult to work with terminal patients day in and day out… I can understand why one might feel the need to harden oneself. At least, hardening oneself seems like the only foolproof, _permanent_ solution. But perhaps there is a more flexible way…
Rachel, I suppose part of the problem is the urge to seek a foolproof, permanent solution.
It’s very kind of you to consider the doctor’s perspective and “hardening” oneself. 🙂
…and a friend just sent me this quote, which speaks less to the letting go and more to dharma’s first law of ceaseless activity (the thing that always gets in my way when I try to meditate):
“We are ceaselessly active. Even when we sleep, our heartbeat never stops. Our universe is full of constant activity, without a moment’s stillness. For this reason, I say that the terms ‘stillness’ and ‘activity’ exist only as relative concepts. When the activity of our bodies and our minds is out of sync with the rhythm of the earth’s activity we call both ‘action’. When we don’t act and our state synchronises with the rhythm of the earth’s activity, we call this stillness.”
—Yin Shi Zi, Tranquil Sitting
[…] of dovetails with the concept of impermanence, […]
In the Western world, our education learn us that we can change everything by our own will and intervening. And to some extent, this is true. But what we do not learn, is the acceptance of not being able to control our world. And we are utterly unhappy about it. Learning to let go and accept change is a gift.
Thanks for sharing Kornfields thoughts. I am off to the bookstore…
Just had an experience where I was “clinging,” and it took me some time to realize that I had to let go. As I did, another way of living emerged. To an extent, I am still “sitting” with the experience but more in the role of observer and as such, the depth of feeling is much more for I am not trying to control anything. Wonderful post!
As a writer, you are already trained to be an observer! It’s good to recall that fact and apply it, occasionally ( 🙂 ) to “real life.”