Tag Archives: aging

Moment by moment

Papermill-creek-2

Papermill Creek II, watercolor by Will Noble

With the regular practice of meditation there is a subtle but profound shift of mind state into a spacious sense of infinite ease and compassionate awareness. Thoughts and emotions still arise, but we are better able to see them as objects of awareness passing through. When our attention wavers and the mind slips back to buying into thoughts and emotions as the whole of our experience, we become entangled for a period. But then, when we remember ‘Oh yeah, I’m meditating’, the practice allows us to come back to awareness without self-recrimination. We don’t make an enemy of anything. We are grounded in a growing ability to hold all life experience in an open embrace.

If you read my last post, you know that I credit my meditation practice for getting me through a very challenging time as a caregiver for my brother in his last days of life. Now in mourning, I continue my practice. I stay present with what arises in my experience and take care of myself. I haven’t rushed back into life’s demands, but allow myself extra time to simply sit, walk and be. My natural inclination is to indulge myself in treats I think I deserve because I’ve lost someone so precious to me. But no amount of ice cream will change my situation. So instead, to whatever degree I am able, I give myself moments to appreciate life. Just now a little songbird caught my attention and I gave myself over to his funny little hopping about on the deck outside my window. Although we didn’t plan for any summer vacation, not knowing what our schedule would be with the care of my brother, my husband Will and I now we find ourselves taking little day trips and walking with all our senses more alert, noticing and appreciating this gift of life. We trim our to do list down to a manageable size. We live as fully in the moment as we can.

Thanks to the practice of meditation, I am able to notice the new set of post-loss thoughts that are arising. Now that I am not as exhausted as I was, not as caught up in an emotional tsunami, I can see the nature of these new thoughts. Any of you who have lost a family member will most likely recognize some of these avenues of thought that tend to arise.

Self-Blame
What might I have done that would have made a difference? In this case, I had a few regrets, but none of my actions affected the final outcome, but it is not at all unusual to believe we could have saved our loved one. I am reminded of a conversation my parents had just a couple months before my mother died. They were talking about the death of my grandfather over forty years before. Dad said that it was because he didn’t give his father a ride home on a cold day when he dropped his car off to be serviced that he had the stroke that caused his death. My mother, married to this man for almost fifty years, could not believe what she was hearing. ‘That’s ridiculous! What a thing to think! You had absolutely nothing to do with it.’ And he seemed to accept with great relief her take on that part of their personal history. Had she not been there, he would have continued to believe that he killed his father.

Believing that at the time of his father’s death that he could have saved him gave Dad some sense of control over a difficult situation. That this ‘control’ was self-condemning may have felt easier to bear at the time than pure grief which demands a surrender to tears and a sense of helplessness that few men of his day felt comfortable with. He then went on to live his busy life without ever revisiting that assumption, and he was still holding that guilt. Fortunately, my mother was around to set him straight. But what if she hadn’t been? Had my father been a meditator, especially in the Insight Meditation tradition, he may have been able to do some skillful inquiry when that line of thinking arose in his awareness. We all have the opportunity to revisit erroneous assumptions as part of our post-meditation practice. Of any thought we can ask, ‘Is this true? How do I know this is true?’

Who am I without…
The kinds of thoughts that have been coming up for me are also ones that are helped by Buddhist exploration. For example, the quest for identity. Who am I without my brother? From a Buddhist standpoint, this quest is fruitless, based in the erroneous assumption that we are separate, isolated individuals whose identity needs to be shored up and put on display for others to admire or love. The people around us are like mirrors telling us who we are. What happens when yet one more mirror — in this case the final mirror for the earliest part of my life — is gone?

To be honest my brother wasn’t much use as a holder of memories of me as a child. I once asked him ‘What was I like as a little girl?’ and he told me ‘You were a very nice girl.’ Oh, brother!

This is just one small aspect of a greater loss, and seeing it clearly as a craving for identity has helped me to release that thread of thought. This is not making an enemy of the thought. The process is done with great compassion and respect. The forlorn little sister inside me gets heard, and at the same time she gets the parenting from my wiser self that she deserves. Nothing’s being whisked away or swept under the rug — at least as far as I can tell.

If only…
Even if my brother wasn’t the most useful mirror, he certainly was the holder of many shared memories. It seems after every loss, I wonder why I wasn’t asking more questions, why I wasn’t demanding more stories. He was five years older and could fill in some gaps in my own memory. But again, from a Buddhist point of view, getting lost in memory pulls us out of the present moment, the only moment that actually exists. All else is just a tangle of thoughts.

Looking for a label
I also notice a desire to name this experience of loss, to define myself by it. There are words for children who lose their parents and people who lose their spouses – orphan, widow, widower — but why is there no label for this I can attach to myself? Is a word useful? Or painful? A protective shell that would limit me even more than it would shield me? Yet I sense that desire there. By noticing it, I feel freed from its lure. Noticing, not judging, is key.

Now is the time to notice
All these thoughts are fresh. They haven’t laid down a solid track for my mind to follow in a habitual way, but are feelers exploring a new space. What an amazing opportunity I have here to observe and inquire, to hold these thoughts lightly as they sketch themselves in pencil in my mind rather than letting them become indelible tattoos upon my psyche.

No bad days
As the days and weeks pass, I notice that some moments are more challenging than others. I guess grief is like a river that way, with the rapids and the placid lulls. Some moments of grief just arise, seemingly out of nowhere, but others are the result of dealing with what follows a loved one’s death. Yesterday I received my brother’s ashes in the morning and spent several hours in the afternoon helping in the final edit of his memorial video that my other brother has beautifully put together. Noticing and making room for the pain, allowing it to be present, is important. But allowing the moments to pass without exaggerating them is also important. There is a tendency many of us have to label day, a week or even a year ‘bad’ (on January 3rd, no less!). Acknowledging our unhappiness in the moment is skillful. Throwing any larger time period away because of it is unskillful. So I haven’t had bad days, but there have certainly been some very challenging moments that seemed to go on forever. And some very wondrous ones as well. Life is like this.

Shock and awe
The loss of a family member in his seventies, while heartbreaking, is well within the range of statistically normal life experience. It doesn’t make it easy, but it is certainly not shocking. In our family, as in most extended families, there have been more challenging losses because they felt very out of order. A young person dies, for example. That sets up a whole different set of thought patterns. But once we have recovered from the shock itself, we still have this ability, thanks to our practice, to see those patterns, to hold them with compassion, to gently question our own assumptions. In this way we make it possible to be resilient in life. We are not immune to the pain, but we are not keeping the suffering going endlessly by creating ruts of painful thinking for our minds to get stuck in. And we can see how the pain itself carves a larger space in our hearts to hold even more love and a capacity to see beauty everywhere.

My own mortality
Because this death takes place in my own generation, it naturally brings up thoughts of my own mortality. Thanks to the practice over so many years of noting the nature of impermanence, this particular thought strain is not as charged for me as it might be. Or maybe I’m saving it up for later. Who knows? The ‘I don’t know’ mind continues to keep me feeling buoyed by the wondrous mystery that is life. Que sera, sera, sang Doris Day, and my mother, and now me. Whatever will be will be.

Joy there for the noticing
The future’s not ours to see, but we often have a rather dim view of it. Neuroscientist and author Rick Hanson, for whom I guest teach, points out how our brains have a negativity bias built in for our survival. We pay attention first to what threatens our existence, figuring there’s plenty of time to appreciate what’s pleasant. This strong bias can become like an overworked muscle, so that we may focus exclusively on all that is wrong in our lives and not even notice what is positive, uplifting and pleasant in this moment. This can make us pessimistic about the future as well. Since it ultimately ends in death, and likely includes issues of aging and illness, how optimistic can we be?

So it is challenging to be present with our own experience, to notice the wondrous, the sweet, the pleasant experiences — not pursuing them to solve anything but noticing them as they arise.

Whatever you are going through in your life right now, stay present with your experience, may you allow for the sweetness of life to express itself in all its variations, without making an enemy of other emotions. Even when you are being jostled in a crowd, instead of focusing on the noise, the irritation and the hassle, open to the wondrous aliveness of it all. What a precious fleeting gift is life!

Exploring our relationship with the ‘enemy’

On especially hot days I am reminded of the summers I spent in Philadelphia when I was in my late teens. My parents had moved there from California, so when I went ‘home’ for the summer it was to this place that didn’t feel like home at all. It was a brick oven of a place, a sauna — so different from the San Francisco Bay Area where ‘nature’s air conditioner’ rolled in from the ocean most evenings. And yet there was something wonderful about a ‘hot town summer in the city’ experience, walking about Center City in the warm evening and meeting up with other young people in Rittenhouse Square. I made friends with a girl who lived around the corner and she was my guide. She taught me, for example, that how you walk across town when you are a young woman is not always a direct route. If guys are out cruising and start saying ‘Hey baby’ etc. and won’t let up, then how convenient that Philly has lots of one way streets. You just turn up the next street that goes in a direction his car can’t go. Oh yes, she taught me the ropes.

Upon returning home we’d often spend the night at each other’s homes, and finding it difficult to get to sleep in the oppressive heat, even at midnight, we’d make up lists. Our favorite list was of all the things we would get rid of if we had the power to do so. We could easily get to one hundred, taking turns naming, for example, people who do obnoxious things. We would get very specific. So, ‘boys who won’t take no for an answer’ might be on the list. Or ‘people who leave gum on the street’ or ‘girls who wear…’ whatever fashion we didn’t find becoming. I don’t remember the details of the list, just that we made one and that we were perfectly ready to wipe them off the planet for their offenses.

In retrospect, of course, this seems at the very least harsh, and at most horrifying. It was all in good fun, a shared complaint about the state of a world over which we had no power.

As a mature woman, I recognize that there is still an internal list, not as lengthy and not of people I would wipe off the face of the earth, but of things I perceive as a threat. And I know for a fact I am not alone in this regard.

At a time when so much saber rattling is going on in the world, it’s worthwhile to take a look at what we identify as ‘enemy’. We don’t have to be at war to have an enemy, do we? Throughout the day we find ourselves at odds and finding fault with all manner of people, situations and aspects of ourselves.

In the Buddhist tradition, we practice kindness, but not ‘nice-nice’ in the way of my mother and perhaps yours, who if I said I felt a certain way told me I shouldn’t feel that way. No, in this tradition we look at what is arising with as much compassionate awareness as we can. If we can look honestly at our thoughts and our fears, we can cultivate a more loving skillful relationship with all that arises in our lives, recognizing its true nature.

So if you are game, take a moment to bring to mind someone or something that you react to as an enemy. Take note of the physical/emotional reaction as your body tightens up and fear or anger arises. This enemy may be a specific person or group of people. It may be a concept. It may be something that causes you pain. Just whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t need to be just one thing. It can be a list! Feel free to write them down if you want.

Now, assuming you were able to come up with at least something that feels threatening to you, let’s look at some common traits that things we perceive as ‘the enemy’ have in common, and see if this is true for yours.

The enemy causes a visceral reaction. We can feel ourselves tensing up and/or negative emotions arising when we think about the enemy. If there’s no visceral reaction, then it’s just an opinion, not something that feels threatening.

The enemy takes up a lot of space in our thoughts and emotions. It’s not just a passing thought. It’s not just someone with whom we disagree. If you doubt it takes up a lot of space, then how did you so easily come up with one or more ‘enemies’? They were right there, readily accessible.

The enemy has power. For example, an enemy might be:

  • A leader with whom we strongly disagree feels threatening, while a past-leader now ‘ordinary citizen’ doesn’t. Yet perhaps we can remember when they felt threatening to our well being, back when they had the power.
  • Pain has power to lay us low, sometimes change our personality and even cause us to feel life is not worth living.
  • Age has power to diminish our abilities in a number of ways.
  • A boss has the power to fire us.
  • A coworker has the power to make us miserable forty hours a week.
  • A parent can feel like an enemy at times simply because when we’re in their care they have power over us. (Any power we give them after we become independent is an unexamined patterned response worth taking time to investigate.)
  • Disease in ourselves or in a loved one has the power to kill, disable and break our hearts.

What power does your ‘enemy’ have over you?

The enemy has volition. We are more inclined to perceive as ‘enemy’ someone who made a choice rather than, for example, an act of nature. There is a classic story of a man rowing his boat on a misty morning when he sees another boat heading towards him. As it comes closer and closer he gets more and more upset. Why is that person not watching where he’s going? Is that person purposely aiming for his boat? Who is it? What did I ever do to him? etc. etc. Enemy alert to the max. And then the boat bumps against his and he sees that it is empty, just a lost boat adrift in the water. All his anger vanishes. The boat is not the enemy. It is just carried on the currents. There is no enemy with whom to be angry.

Abstract concepts are not as powerful as personal experiences. We might be against violence in general, but it isn’t a palpable enemy unless it is happening to us (or did happen to us and we are still processing it), or it happens or happened to someone we love, or to someone right in front of us, whether in person or on a video or in a book. Abstracts do not activate our emotions in the same way.

Those are some things I have noticed as common traits of ‘the enemy’. What else do you notice? This is an exploration. Feel free to check it out for yourself and report back by commenting. (Click on reply at the top of this post.)

HOW TO COME INTO SKILLFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH ‘ENEMIES’

NOTE: If you are in a situation where you are in that moment being threatened, you will do whatever you feel in that moment that you need to do — your flight or flight response will likely kick in and nothing we discuss here will make a bit of difference. However, regular meditation practice will help you to be more mindful and better able to see the situation clearly, and perhaps will have cultivated some compassion that could help to ameliorate certain threatening situations. But street smarts and a call to 911 may be what’s needed. Just sayin’.

But, assuming we are talking about someone or something that is not holding a gun to our heads in this moment, but which satisfy the definition of ‘enemy’ for our purposes here, let’s proceed.

All of this ‘other’ making, this ‘me’ against the world or ‘us’ against ‘them’ thinking, takes a serious toll on our mental and physical health. It depletes our capacity for ease, joy and kindness to ourselves or anyone else. But it isn’t skillful to push these thoughts away or pretend they don’t exist. It is equally unskillful to actively antagonize an external designated enemy. This only adds to their power by fueling it with similar energy. So what are we to do?

Know your enemy
We’ve already made a first step by defining who or what we are perceiving as enemy. We have ruled out anything that’s just an opinion and anything that is abstract. Now we can focus on something that does activate a visceral reaction, that does cause us to feel threatened in some way. We get to know the enemy not to strategize how to defeat them, but in order to understand their true nature and the nature of our own mind.

Here are some ways to come into a more skillful relationship with the enemy or enemies we have named.

Expand awareness
We tend to get caught up in the story or the rant about whatever we perceive to be enemy. We probably don’t even listen to ourselves anymore, we just blather on in a habitual way. But we have a choice. Without pushing the enemy away, we can notice all else that is going on in this moment. We can come into an awareness of our senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.
We can notice pleasant sensations also going on right now. The enemy may still be present, but we see that it is just one part of all that is happening in this moment, a slender thread in the whole fabric of being. We can take in all of this moment with gratitude for being alive to experience it, enemy and all.

Interview, inquire, investigate
When we feel up for it, perhaps after meditation, we can invite the enemy into our thoughts for clearer observation and investigation. We can breathe into the discomfort. We can take care of ourselves. We can remind ourselves that the enemy in this moment is just a pattern of thought and emotion. It is safe to look more closely and to do some insightful investigation.
Part of this investigation might be actual fact checking. When we perceive something or someone as ‘enemy’ we might not be able to talk ourselves out of it, but it is worthwhile to know at least whether it is as dangerous as we think. So, for example, if we have a fear of flying, the fact that it is statistically much safer than driving may be little comfort, but it is an important fact to keep handy. Other typical fears — spiders and snakes, for example — can also be aided by discovering their benign and helpful aspects, and perhaps how unlikely it is that we would encounter a dangerous variety in our area. Some things are easier to fact check than others. We need to be sure our sources are reliable, that our enemy is not the product of some random thing read online or the irrational ranting of some pundit with an ax to grind and bills to pay.  We might notice how willing we are to believe someone who reinforces our existing view, and let that be a red flag for us to make further inquiry rather than getting more entrenched in our position which is causing us, and perhaps others, such suffering.

Consider whether the enemy is a projection
We can recognize the possibility that what annoys us about another person is the very thing that we are either suppressing or judging in ourselves, especially if it’s always the same ‘type’ of person who annoys us.

Back when I was too shy to speak my own truth, I found I was often judgmental toward powerful women. ‘Who does she think she is?’ But it was just my own insecurities and my own desire to feel that freedom to speak up that was making enemies of perfectly nice people who were more worthy of admiration than condemnation.

If the ‘enemy’ that you defined is not necessarily powerful, then there’s an even stronger reason to look at the idea of projection. Perhaps you’re annoyed by people who are virtually powerless. Then what part of you feels powerless? This is not an accusatory investigation. We inquire with respect and kindness.

enemy-as-messengerRecognize the enemy as messenger
We can look at the possibility that what we have taken to be an enemy with a weapon to harm us is in fact a messenger with an offering that has the potential to heal us. The image shown here could be carrying a weapon or a scroll with an important message for us. We won’t know until we take the time to look.

Let’s take tension, for example. It is the one thing we actively work to diminish in our meditation practice. So it is easy to see it as the enemy. But in fact it is the messenger. It tells us that our thoughts are caught up in the past and/or future. When we befriend the messenger — come on in, take a load off, care for some tea? — then the tension releases to whatever degree is possible in that moment, and we can be fully present with what is arising in that moment. Noticing the tension, we recognize where our thoughts have wandered. The tension is the messenger.

Let’s look at some other ‘enemies’ we might encounter and what their message is:

If you experience any degree of impatience or even road rage, then your ‘enemies’ may be:

  • Someone driving slower than you want to drive. The message is to cultivate patience and to stay more present in the moment rather than rushing to be somewhere else.
  • Someone cutting you off, being discourteous. The message is to cultivate compassion, to recognize that everyone is carrying a burden we are unaware of.
  • Someone driving recklessly, putting you and everyone else in danger. The message is to be mindful ourselves, to be aware we have great power to do harm as we drive around at high speeds in these metal ‘killing machines’.

You get the idea. So what we’re learning is how to be present with someone or something we perceive as enemy by cultivating a spacious field of awareness to hold whatever is arising.

As we stay present with the enemy in that spacious field of awareness, we can inquire about the message it is bearing. We can ask ‘What do you want me to know?’ for example. This would be very skillful in post meditation inquiry if a challenging ‘enemy’ is present.

Practice meditation on regular basis. By doing so we become more and more attuned to recognize the infinite interconnection – all one, that there is no separate self that needs to be defended against some outside enemy. In that way we are able to see through the faulty filter of fear that has named something or someone ‘enemy’.

Feed your Demons This is a Tibetan Buddhist practice that can be very skillful in working through a difficult relationship with an aspect of self that presents as enemy.

Send Metta  A powerful practice is to send metta, infinite loving-kindness, always beginning with ourselves and always ending with sending it to all beings. In between we can send it to a difficult person. I have heard so many first-hand accounts of the power of metta practice — May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be at peace. May you be happy. — to shift a relationship and reveal that in fact the ‘enemy’ is a vulnerable suffering being, worthy of kindness and compassion.
Here’s a recording of me leading an extended metta practice.

Speak our truth to whomever is in power, whether in government or in our private lives. Once we have cultivated compassionate awareness, we are ready to use wise speech to address any concerns we have. Instead of aggravating the enemy, turning off their ability to listen to us, we touch a deeper place and inspire their own inner wisdom to look more closely at their own way of being with difficult emotions.

I hope that these suggestions help to whittle down your enemy list, and create some powerful positive changes in the process. Let me know!

Treasure beyond measure

Have you ever gone on a Scavenger Hunt? This one has a big reward, a treasure beyond measure — definitely worth doing! Most scavenger hunts have you go about town looking for things, but for this scavenger hunt we will stay seated and use our imaginations.

Scavenger Hunt Instructions
Close your eyes and think about objects right where you are or in other places in your life — whatever comes to mind. Bring one to mind. Got it? Okay, now see if it depends on anything else to exist. If so, move on to another object. You are looking for something that came into the world completely of its own accord.

When you find something that doesn’t depend on anything else —  or if you just give up — open your eyes. But really give it a try before going on. After all, there is a big reward!

Okay, did you find anything? If you did, look more closely. Ask more questions: Did anyone make this object? What material is it made of and where did that come from? What about the chemical composition of the object or even an element, in case you thought of something elemental?

If you couldn’t find anything that didn’t depend on anything else for its existence, then congratulations! You win the big reward. Your reward is a powerful realization with many benefits that I will explore here. But know that you have discovered for yourself a central point of awakening, one that the Buddha discovered for himself one time when he was staring at a leaf.

pipalla leaf sun-starsIn his contemplation of the leaf suddenly he saw within it the presence of the sun and the stars. This was not a hallucination but a realization about the nature of being. Without the sun’s light and warmth the leaf could not exist. He recognized how the leaf manifested from a myriad of causes and conditions. Without those causes and conditions, the leaf would not exist. He realized that what was true for the leaf was true for everything and everyone: This is like this because that was like that. And if there was not that, then there would not be this.

He shared his realization and called it dependent co-arising. Nothing exists alone. Everything is because something else was. Let’s just stay with that for a moment. Think of your own being and what it depends on. You are as you are because of all the natural phenomena that has formed you and sustained you physically: to start let’s acknowledge the whole ongoing coming together of legions of ancestors so that eventually here you are, the result of innumerable causes and conditions being just so at particular moments in time. Think if your mother had had a headache that night! Or one of all those string of couplings throughout all those generations never occurred because they never met, etc. etc. You get the picture: This miracle of being you is nothing to take for granted, clearly! You might say it’s a total fluke that you are here. But it’s not a fluke really. The manifestation of your existence in this form at this time is an intrinsic part of the whole ongoing process of life unfolding, the interplay of all those causes and conditions.

It’s so easy to see this once we take a moment to think about it. Just on your person in this moment are the products of all manner of plants, perhaps animals and minerals and human labor, as well as the sun, soil and rain that sustained them all! Just think about that! Your clothing, whatever you have in your pockets or your purse, maybe your eyeglasses — all of it exists because of the existence of something or someone else. So that on your person right now, the whole universe is represented.

This is not just the product of living in society, though it may be easier to see it there. But even if you lived on a mountainside in a cave, you would still be dependent on the elements and the berry bushes and the mountain stream. You would still be someone’s child, even if estranged. There is no way to cut ourselves off from all that is, because we are each inseparable parts of all that is. There is no way to exist in complete isolation for anyone. There is dependent co-arising, and there is this ongoing interdependency of all life.

Maybe think about that the next time you pride yourself on being independent. Or maybe gently mention that the next time someone claims they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps — whatever the heck that means! Recognizing our interdependence can soften harsh judgments, soften hearts and clarify thinking. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. It is all us, all of us, without anything that is not us from here to infinity. Knowing this to be true, we naturally become more compassionate, more generous, more loving. Understanding this, can we see more clearly the actions of other? Can we see how unskillfulness in actions and words, while not necessarily inevitable, are certainly understandable given causes and conditions?

Now thinking about that leaf that the Buddha held in his hand, we come to a second aspect to contemplate in this dependent co-arising. We can ask when was this leaf born? Most of us have at one time or another noticed a leafing forth on a plant. But none of us would ever be able to pinpoint the very moment when the leaf suddenly exists. Because the leaf was inherent in the tree, the tree inherent in the seed and its relationship with the soil, the rain, the sun, and perhaps the hand of a person who purposely planted it there or the bird who deposited it there.

Think of the leaf. Is the leaf’s death when it falls off the tree? But it still exists, doesn’t it? We know that full well if we are tasked with raking or sweeping leaves. The leaf is still involved in the cycles of cause and effect. It dries up, it disintegrates, interacting with the sun, the rain, the wind it breaks down to become a part the soil, nourishing new life. So there is no moment when the leaf dies nor a moment when it was born. It is in an ongoing interaction of elements, manifesting in different forms.

Why is this important? Because when we look at our own human lives, we typically get caught up in a very constricted idea of life. We define it with a clear beginning and ending: birth and death. And then we struggle with that finite definition, especially with death. It doesn’t sit well with us. And there’s a reason it doesn’t sit well: Because it isn’t true. There is a moment when we take our first breath. Did we not exist already in the womb? And before conception were we not inherent in the bodies of our parents, and the gleam in our father’s eye?

Birth is not the beginning. It is entwined completely with all that came before that moment.

There will be a moment when we take our last breath. At that moment do we suddenly disappear? No! That moment is not the end, neither for our bodies nor for our being and the impact we have made on all around us and continue to make even though we may no longer have form, consciousness or volition. Existence is not so cut and dried.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of paring down, and one project that loomed large but turned out to be not a big deal, was taking all the old family home movies and videos and converting them to digital so that they would take up less space and be able to be shared with everyone, because no one in the family has an 8 mm projector, and few have DVRs. Some of these recordings I hadn’t seen since I was a child or a young mother, and they were fun to watch. But there was one I just wasn’t ready to see.

My mother died in 1989, and although of course her photos have been around and enjoyed all these years, I just had never worked up the courage to watch a videotaped interview of her that I discovered among her things. I was afraid it would just be too difficult for me to see her gestures and hear her voice so I managed to put it off for coming up on three decades. But her two beloved granddaughters were visiting, and the three of us decided we would watch it. And there she was, and there we were, her offspring still resonating, still feeling the presence of her being, while we watched her mannerisms and listened to her voice. Yes she was gone and we missed her, but we each of us had some part of her that has been with us every day in little ways, and in the fact, clearly we would not be who we are without her. Even if she never had children, nieces, nephews and friends also have been touched by her. She made a big difference in many people’s lives. So death may be the last breath, but it is not the last of any of us. We all go on and on, continuing to make an impact on all whose lives we have touched, and those whose lives they have touched, etc. etc. Rippling out and out and on and on.

Have you ever noticed on a clear blue day, maybe you’re out hiking, and suddenly a small cloud appears, as if out of nowhere? Was the cloud born? No, it existed as moisture in the atmosphere, but because of the wind or other elements, it coalesced and became visible to our eyes. But it was already there, inherent in the sky.

The cloud like everything else manifested out of transforming causes and conditions. This is like this because that was like that. Clouds are not born and they do not die. And neither do we!

We are like this because that was like that. When the Buddha recognized this he found it very freeing, this seeing our inherent ongoing nature of dependent co-arising. One student of mine said she felt much lighter. And that made me recognize that this insight does lighten the burden of being that we tend to carry, when we could be dancing with the brilliant patterns of being! See what effect this insight has on you.

For long time students of Buddhism who are familiar with the term ‘dependent co-arising’ there can be a habit of seeing this only as dogma, a dry doctrine, something to grasp philosophically, as if there’s going to be a test. But there is no test. And the Buddha was very much against anything he taught being received as some doctrine to be learned. He taught how to be joyful through mindfulness. So let go of any struggle around grasping at this dependent co-arising. There is only the joy of discovery that’s possible when we see the truth of it. Choose any object and see how it is like this because that was like that. There is no thing that exists on its own.

The next reward of recognizing dependent co-arising is realizing that it can only happen because there is impermanence. How we humans struggle with impermanence! Oh, things used to be better back in the day. Oh, look another wrinkle. But impermanence is not a necessary inconvenience that we must accept. It is imperative to life. We fear change so much, and yet it is the inherent nature that creates everything in our experience! Yay, impermanence! We would never exist without it!

And when we see this, then we see that there truly is no separate self, that we are ongoing ever evolving patterns of being, coming together, manifesting in one form or another, falling apart, transforming, always in a state of becoming, always dependent on what has been and co-creating what will be.

Why does this matter? Because, as the Buddha defined it, denying the value of impermanence and believing ourselves to be separate from all being, are the root causes of suffering. All our clinging to youth, all our fear of death, all our grasping for recognition and love and security, all come from the denial of the basis of all life: because that exists, this exists. Dependent co-arising.

This is as it is because that was as it was. Throughout this coming week, you could return to that idea, and check it out this dependent co-arising for yourself. Standing in line at the grocery line, instead of being impatient to get somewhere else, take that moment to notice how everything on the counter being scanned exists because of many other things. Include every element, every aspect and every person who contributed to that product and you will discover the sun and the stars at the checkout stand. And you won’t be hallucinating!

Understanding how nothing exists independently, how everything is interdependent, can we set the intention to co-create a world of joy, peace, love and kindness? Can we cultivate lovingkindness and compassion for ourselves, then radiate it out in ripples to all beings everywhere? This is not some grand scheme. This is a simple choice to practice meditation, self-inquiry, awareness, spaciousness and compassion. This is wise intention! And if we make a wise effort to live with loving awareness in all our interactions, we ripple out in all directions and down through generations to come. If we stay unawakened, what are we sending out? The static of fear, dense and destructive.

We have the capacity to choose how this manifestation evolves, how we can radiate the joy that is manifested in our practice for the benefit of all beings. As our understanding deepens, our ability to manifest joy grows exponentially.

Now wasn’t that rewarding?