Dear Sangha Members,
The photos above capture the same spot in Forest Park 24 hours apart. Last Monday freshly fallen snow covered the ground. By Tuesday most of the snow had melted into early spring browns and greys. The difference between those images is striking. Several weeks ago a change this significant in such a short period of time might have surprised us. Right now the transformation of the landscape seems far less noteworthy as our daily routines and sense of normalcy undergo the unsettling transitions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Buddhism impermanence (anitya) is one of the three marks of existence. Ordinarily this ever present change of our lives shows up like background noise while our routines create a sense of permanence to the world around us. Only when we pause to look closely and intentionally do we really grasp the impermanence underlying our existence. Without a regular practice of looking deeply at the nature of reality, we experience disruptions to our status quo with surprise or shock.
Even when we are firmly rooted in our Buddhist practice, large scale change can feel turbulent and difficult. It is normal to feel anger or anxiety over the loss of a job and income. It is normal to feel impatience, worry, or grief when our own or a loved one’s health is declining. Emotions arise from the conditions in which we are immersed. However, when we add on top of those emotions a sense that the change itself shouldn’t be happening, we intensify the emotions. When we focus on a moment we wish were in front of us rather than the moment that actually is in front of us, we increase our experience of duhkha. Clinging to past or future pulls us away from comfort that can be found in the present moment.
Where and how do we find this comfort? We start by noticing what is happening right now, inside and then outside of ourselves. We trace the links between thoughts, emotions, and sensations and note that those are anchored in the physical body. We bring our attention to the body and notice the ebb and flow of sensation, emotion and thought. We expand our awareness to our environment–the chair we are sitting on, the warm cup of tea in our hand, the roof overhead. This practice of slowing down supports us to see where opportunities for gratitude exist in any moment.
This moment in history–the “new normal” of the coronavirus pandemic–is not what most of us were expecting or hoping for, but this is the moment we have. In the midst of this global and personal crisis, our path forward is to slow down and look closely at the whole array of experiences that exist in each moment. We must grant ourselves patience when fear or grief arises. We must also strive to water seeds of joy. We may take solace in the fact that emotions are always arising and falling–that impermanence itself is normal.