By Tammy T. Stone
A day is long, a life is short. That’s how it feels, anyway. Isn’t this interesting?
By long, I mean that there are times (government agency line-ups, anyone?) when we’re desperate to speed time up, and others when we reach high levels of anxiety thinking of the years that have mysteriously gone by.
We experience all sorts of discomfort and pain, and look back on these precise moments with nostalgia. Isn’t this fascinating?
These are times when we are not particularly peaceful. We want things to be other than they are. We pine, crave, resent, get frustrated, and these reactions take away from our ability to live in the present moment and just enjoy life.
I’ve been feeling quite a bit of this lately; I’ve noticed a creeping sense of worry infusing itself into the days like an unwanted cold spell after spring has set in. My worries are less day-to-day and more big-picture stuff. Essentially, this is what it’s boiling down to:
I’m afraid I haven’t accomplished enough. I’m afraid I’m not accomplishing enough. I’m afraid I won’t accomplish enough.
This fear has me uncomfortable with and even imprisoned by not one, but all three of our common time markers: past, present and future. On a positive note, my unease seems to have no time bias!
What’s more, the worries start taking on a “meta-worry” flavour. I start worrying about why I’m worrying so much. Haven’t I learned anything from my meditation practice, from the several long retreats I’ve done, through the long years of journaling and learning more about my mental processes and about how to live with more mindfulness?
We can be pretty hard on ourselves. One of the common traps we can fall into when embarking on a spiritual journey is to create unnaturally large expectations for “success” despite hearing over and over that a spiritual or meditation practice is not about results, and that expecting results will inevitably wind up a hindrance to our practice.
We learn that the letting go of expectations (and any number of other burdens) can be a lifetime process, and that this shouldn’t get us down, because we can learn to reframe our perspective on the practice to encompass a gentle patience toward our selves and our practice as we embrace it all with equanimity.
Change or progress can feel so slow in the making, and there’s the time trap again. I’ve been noticing, though, a tiny inkling of change taking place within me, and tiny or not, it feels like a revolution, the beginning stages of one, anyway. More than I could before, I’m watching myself, to some degree, become an observer of how my mind and emotions are spiraling, and even how my body is responding to the worry on a visceral level. When I meditate, I can watch the unease flow through my body, and I can scrutinize the way I am worrying instead of becoming continually lost in the content of my worries.
In incrementally small ways, I can become a more interested, even scientific observer of an interesting phenomenon (the worry), rather than someone drowning under the weight of it. I can better locate triggers for the worry, and determine which unresolved issues I’ve let take the driver’s seat. As I observe, I watch the worry become a little less scary and overwhelming, and notice how it eventually subsides, which is also interesting: we are so convinced in the fact and truth of the causes of our worries, yet the worry comes and goes. Shouldn’t we be worried/scared/angry every single moment of everyday if their causes are so immutable?
When I started learning about Buddhism and the Dharma, I became enraptured by what they call the Three Marks of Existence:
Anicca – impermanence
Dukkha – suffering
Anatta – not-self or no-self
These aspects of existence are immensely complex but they are also very powerful to absorb in their most direct senses. The fact of suffering is apparent with every worry and fear, every time we step out of the pure present and into the past or future, where we simply cannot thrive. That we are too attached to our selves (our egos) as separate and isolated beings is a major cause of our suffering; we’ve all experienced the pure joy that comes from feeling genuinely connected to others.
“Anicca” is my favorite, silly as that sounds, and I say it to myself very often. First, the Sanskrit word simply sounds beautiful and lyrical to me. I love using these sounds to remind myself that everything is impermanent. The past is gone and our regrets about the past will come and they will also go. Our worries about the future and about how we are living in the present will arise and fall away the same way our cells die and new cell regenerate every moment of our existence.
It starts feeling slightly less important to cling to the worries as they surface, knowing that everything is in flux, that even if we wanted it to, this particular worry—causes included—on this particular day will never again be.
Robert Frost famously wrote about the ineffable nature of time in his poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
The good news is that nothing dark, gloomy and bitter can stay, either.
Sometimes, we inadvertently choose to bring our habitual worries right back by the sheer force of thinking about them. Other times, we can choose not to, unless we are powerless to choose for the moment, and are overcome.
The past does not stay in the past as long as we keep recalling memories and events from there to chew over and wallow in. These things will surface again and again, and will become inscribed in our minds and our bodies, until we’ve learned to let go of their grip on us.
Armed, though, with the notion of “Anicca,” of impermanence, we can sit with feelings that are at times little nudges and at others tidal waves of emotion, and observe them without attachment or fear or frustration or impatience. We can just notice what it all feels like, knowing everything changes even as we observe it mapped on our bodies, before it slips away.
My goal, as I try to move to the rhythm of “Anicca, Anicca,” is to make friends with time, to love every moment of the present, with all its insufferable boredom and with all the anxieties that creep in. These moments are precious, and will feel even more precious, along with our more joyful experiences, as time goes by.
It is my great hope that we can all dance together to the song of “Anicca” as we revel in the fullness of our lives now, in this present moment.
Photo: Nothing Gold Can Stay by Nick Kenrick/Flickr
Editor: Sherrin Fitzer