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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Impermanence"
Volume 6 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Breathe Wisdom

with Jacqueline Kramer

Sara called me in tears as she dropped her son off at pre-school for the first time. He was growing up and she felt the first pangs of separation. Moms deal with the effects of impermanence like this all the time. On the one hand, we love impermanence. Impermanence means that the baby will eventually stop crying, we will make it to our beds to sleep at some point and our teenagers will grow up and stop needing to constantly butt heads with us. On the other hand, impermanence means our babies will grow up and leave us, that this perfect golden day will turn to night and we are growing older and will experience all the changes which come with aging. This is one way to understand impermanence.

But impermanence can be understood at an even deeper level. At a more subtle level everything is changing all the time. Nothing is static. Our bodies and this Earth are remaking themselves in each moment. Although our mind creates the illusion of stability nothing stays as it is, there is nothing to hold onto. This is a hard sell to moms who love this Earth and their families. For those moms willing to look deeply into the principle of impermanence great freedom from fear and tension meets them on the other side. When we truly understand how not in control we are we have no other choice but to let go and become part of the flow. But we humans fight this. We feel that if we don't control the world everything will go to hell in a hand basket. Heck, our family has a hard time being without our organizing abilities for even one day! Trying to keep the universe from falling apart occupies a lion's share of our energy day in and day out. Enlightenment is about deeply getting that we are not in control here. We stop struggling to create the illusion of control.

That's all very fine on a theoretical level but how does this play out in our family life? What would our family life look like if we realized we were no longer in control and let go? The fear is that there would be complete anarchy, our children would go unfed and unreared, that we would sit on our sofa all day watching soaps or staring out the window, we would be in the poor house, catatonic and dependent. But this fear could not be further from the truth. When we let go of imagined control we still get up in the morning, brush our teeth, see that our kids lunch is made and they get off to school, we go to work and make dinner and put the kids to bed. Only we do it without tension and fear. We make the best choices we can in each given moment and when the moment is over, it's over. We don't need to deal with the past or construct the future. We still learn from the past and plan when necessary but we don't waste energy worrying about it.

Our fear of impermanence extends to the fear of death and thus the fear of life. Cultures which are more comfortable with impermanence understand all things that are living are created, have their existence and then pass away. Death is as necessary a part of life as birth is, and just as beautiful. What a change this perspective makes in the mental health of our families! When we accept death as part of life we still feel sad when loved ones pass on but bitterness or angst is no longer a part of our grieving. We may feel a deep sadness about some of the changes impermanence brings but we do not need to suffer. Pain is part of the human experience, suffering is optional. The open heart is a broken heart and when we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of death we also cut ourselves off from living a full, joyful life.

There are a number of ways to engage in spiritual practice which will help us understand impermanence more deeply. One way is to watch, in our meditation, how thoughts, feelings and sensations, come and go. The itch we feel on our nose dissolves and we no longer itch, the thought about our schedule is replaced by a thought about our friend. Where did the thought about our schedule go? It went back into the nothingness from which it came. Thoughts come and go. Sensations come and go. We would like the pleasant thoughts and sensations to stay and the unpleasant thoughts and sensations to pass quickly. That's natural. That's human. Regardless of what we want or do not want we cannot control our thoughts or the sensations of life to the point where only pleasant thoughts arise. The best we can do as meditators is allow everything to be as it is without attachment or repulsion and understand what the Buddha meant when he said, "Wonderful, wonderful! Everything is perfect as it is."

Another way to enter into a deeper understanding of impermanence is through study. We study nature, watching how plants live and die, species become extinct, summer turns into fall and then winter. We can read the works of great spiritual teachers and see that, not only is impermanence not scary, it is beautiful and important. The leaves change colour and fall from the trees, empires come and go, everything is in constant flux. The sages help us understand this more deeply. Impermanence is a deep study. It bears fruit in the form of less tension in our family and in our own inner world. We let go more easily. This is the freedom understanding of impermanence brings. These few words just touch upon all the gifts we open to when we embrace impermanence rather than fear. We can't avoid impermanence so why try? It is much more empowering to turn around and face that which we fear and greet impermanence as our friend.

To learn more about Jacqueline and the Hearth Foundation please read her interview in the November 2007 issue of Timeless Spirit Magazine.

Jacqueline Kramer is the director of the Hearth Foundation. She has been studying and practicing Theravadin Buddhism for 30 years, is a Religious Science Practitioner and student of the world's wisdom traditions. Her root teacher was Annagarika Dhamma Dinna who taught in the Sri Lankan tradition. She also studied with Ven. Ananda Maitreya, Achan Sobin Namto, Ven. Punnaji Mahathera and Ayya Khema.

Her work with mothering and homemaking came out of an insight she had one afternoon while out in her back yard. As she looked into the eyes of the neighbour's cow she had an experience of unity and love for the planet and the desire to help protect the planet for her newborn daughter and all other beings. She realized this was her life's purpose. Jacqueline writes a weekly newsletter, books on mothering as a spiritual practice, and has created online lay Buddhist practice classes which she offers, as is the Buddhist tradition, at no cost. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend.

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