Thoughts on Impermanence
by Nadia Colburn
Recently my son celebrated his 18th birthday; then he graduated from high school.
My Buddhist practice teaches me that everything is impermanent, but sometimes the past feels so close.
I remember so clearly the day Gabriel was born—it was the day after his due date, and I was so impatient to meet that little person kicking inside of me. Outside it was 90 degrees and the pear blossoms were in all in bloom.
I remember Gabriel’s second birthday party when his favorite color was orange and I made him an orange cake; his tenth birthday party when a group of friends slept over on our living room floor; and his thirteenth birthday party when we spent the night at an AMC hut in the white mountains.
I see the baby and the child in Gabriel now at the same time that I miss the baby and child that was—I will never hold Gabriel (who is now almost 6 feet tall) in my arms the way I did when he was one or two or three; so there is loss.
And while my Buddhist and meditation practices help me stay present and also to put all these shifts in perspective, I’m also grateful to be able to experience the fullness of human experience even with the real pains that I experience. Yes, impermanence and attachment are hard, but I wouldn’t want to give them up.
The pain that I feel at his growing up, at this phase of mothering him coming to an end, is a sign of how deeply I value the things I care for.
I wouldn’t want to give up this attachment; I’ll take the pain that comes with it.
“No mud no lotus,” as Thich Nhat Hanh says, even in the best of times.
The pain and the love inter-are. If I didn’t love, I wouldn’t feel the pain.
This helps me when things aren’t going traditionally “well.” I mourn violence or loss because I care. And while not caring might make me feel less pain, it helps me, instead, to see that the pain itself can be a sign of love, and I wouldn’t want to give up or hide from love.
My meditation practice helps me (even if it’s not always easy!) be present for it all.
And the very way in which I feel just slightly out of alignment with the present, unable quite to fully understand this present moment, makes me wonder all the more at the miracle of the world.
At times it can feel overwhelming, but I find it helpful to realize that even in what is going best in my life, there is often pain.
And this reminds me that when things don’t go traditionally well in my life, or in the world, the pain I feel is also a sign of my love and caring.
Rather than be scared of the pain that attachment brings, I try to embrace it, being present, without either aversion or grasping, to the richness of what it means to be alive with others through time.
About Nadia Colburn
Nadia Colburn is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh with the dharma name, Joyful Gardening of the Heart. She is a kundalini yoga teacher and a writing and life coach. Her online course Align Your Story brings together writing, yoga and meditation. Nadia holds a PhD in English from Columbia University and BA from Harvard and her own writing has been widely published in more than sixty publications including The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Spirituality & Health, American Scholar and elsewhere. For free meditations and writing prompts visit www.nadiacolburn.com