The Little Death
Most of us live according to a preordained plan that we have created. Our lives become repetitive and seemingly safe. We hide our fear of change and impermanence by surrounding ourselves with more and more things and more and more comforts. We wonder how we can possibly enjoy anything without owning it. Soon all our time and energy is exhausted by simply maintaining our possessions and preplanned lifestyle. We resist change. When changes do happen, we find the quickest remedy, one that will not thwart our so-called "progress" in the world.
Death frightens us because it plunges us into the unknown. All we hold familiar disappears. We're lost. We don't know who we are. In life we depend on our name, our family, our friends, our work, our credit cards, and our partners to define who we are. Without these familiar props, we're lost. When all this is taken away, we meet a stranger we may feel like we never really wanted to meet.
It is only when we believe things to be permanent that we shut out the possibility of learning from change. Change is an intricate part of life. Life is a dance of change. We see it in the seasons, in our health, in our moods. We see ourselves and our friends change from children to adults to elders. We see changes in our neighborhoods, our work place, and in the world. These changes are small deaths. They are our living links with death.
Working with nonresistance to such changes in life is the real way to prepare for death. Pain, suffering, and difficulty are opportunities that help us move toward an emotional acceptance of death. If you find yourself grasping, desperately holding on and fearing change, try letting go! Living and dying are learning to let go. Not only is it impossible to hold on, but this brings us to the very pain we seek to avoid. Taking impermanence truly to heart is to be slowly freed from the idea of grasping, and from the false passion for security on which we have built everything. Slowly then, we realize that all our heartache arises from grasping at the ungraspable.
As changes occur, allow them. Acknowledge your fears. Open to new possibilities and opportunities for growth. Understand that change is natural. Experimenting with this perspective allows our hearts and minds to go through a gradual transformation. Letting go begins to feel more natural and becomes easier and easier, then a shift takes place in our way of looking at everything. Change becomes more relaxed and less intense and painful. With each successive change our view of living becomes deeper and more spacious.
Let's try an experiment!
Pick up a coin. Imagine that it represents the object at which you are grasping. Hold it tightly clutched in your fist and extend your arm, with the palm of your hand facing the ground. Now, if you let go or relax your grip, you will lose what you are clinging to. That's why you hold on.
But there's another possibility: you can let go and yet keep hold of it! With your arm still outstretched, turn your hand over so it faces the sky. Release your hand and the coin still rests on your open palm. You let go and the coin is still yours, even with all this space around it. So there is a way in which we can accept impermanence and still relish life, at one and the same time, without grasping.
Life reveals again and again that letting go is the path to real freedom. Through weathering changes we can learn how to develop a gentle but unshakable composure. Our self-confidence grows greater until goodness and compassion begin naturally to radiate out from us, bringing joy to others. That fundamental goodness, which is in every one of us, is what survives death. The whole of our life is a teaching of how to uncover that strong goodness, and a training toward realizing it. Difficulties and obstacles, if properly understood and used, can often turn out to be unexpected sources of strength.
With continued contemplation and practice in letting go, we come to uncover in ourselves "something" we cannot name or describe or even conceptualize, "something" we begin to realize lies behind all the changes and deaths of the physical world. As this happens we catch repeated and glowing glimpses of the vast implications behind the truth of impermanence. It is as if all our lives we have been flying in an airplane through dark clouds and turbulence, when suddenly the plane soars above these into the clear, boundless sky. Inspired and exhilarated by this emergence into a new dimension of freedom, we come to uncover a depth of peace, joy, and confidence in ourselves that fills us with wonder, and gradually breeds in us a certainty that there is in us "something" that nothing destroys, that nothing alters, and that cannot die. We become aware in ourselves of a calm and sky-like presence. We experience a personal, utterly non-conceptual revelation of what we are, why we are here, and how we should act. It is an experience of a new life, a new birth ... almost, you could say, a resurrection.
What a beautiful and healing mystery change is! By contemplating, continually and fearlessly, the truth of change and impermanence, we come slowly to find ourselves face to face, in gratitude and joy, with the very truth of our changeless, deathless, unending nature!
Impeccability and Manifestation
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