By Kellie Schorr
Buddhists and mindfulness teachers share a pretty happy message most of the time.
That is, until they write a book. For some reason, when it’s time to write about sacred matters the happiest authors tend to get bogged down in the propriety of things. The books feature pastel minimalist covers or beautiful nature shots of lotus, blue sky, mountain vistas, and Bhutanese architecture. The sentiments, most of them delightful, are couched in the language of the ethereal spiritual.
Mindful book version: It is the soul at rest that opens itself to the patience and forbearance required in your waking life.
What it’s saying: Take a nap before you bite your kid’s head off.
Mindful book version: It is the light filtering through your broken pieces that brings a new sense of being to you when you see the patterns of beauty left on the darkness.
What it’s saying: Girl, you’re a hot mess. But, you’re alright.
Some of the most interesting authors melt like vanilla candle wax all over a thought once it becomes a matter of dharma. Oddly, the one topic teachers don’t go high poetry or super somber with is the one topic you’d expect them to take seriously—death. Or, as we call it in the language of the sages, impermanence.
Teachers can be stunningly glib on the concept of impermanence.
“Everybody is going to die,” they say with a smile.
“Why take revenge on someone? Someday they are going to die. Isn’t that enough?”
“If you hate something, be grateful, because it will leave. If you love something, be grateful, because it will leave.”
“The secret to a good life is remembering no one gets out alive.”
The reason for all the sunshine in shadow of death is the recognition that impermanence is the nature of all things and the sooner we accept and develop a living understanding of that truth, the less we will suffer.
Suffering comes by clinging to things or people that won’t last (in case you hadn’t noticed, that’s everything/everyone). Hence, the casual conversations about lovers never-lasting.
The thinking on this is clear. If we are aware of our own impermanent nature we will value, enjoy, and experience the now. We give up the concept of the “bucket list” and embrace the fact those strawberries we’re eating right now are luxuriously sweet for late season picks. So, let’s jump on the rollercoaster, slide right up to impermanence, and become good friends as we prepare for a wild ride.
I’m not there. I’m not ready. And, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be. To awaken is the practice of functioning within your genuine humanity. My humanity views impermanence as something I can learn from, I can honor and I should be mindful of, but I refuse to dance in its rain. There is more than one way to accept something. You don’t have to like it to understand its truth.
In the mid 1990’s I was the director of a youth program full of curious, smart, funny, annoying teenagers who managed to learn, share, laugh and cry together as they navigated the rocky waters of adolescence. I was only slightly older than they were, but they gave me tons of respect, trust and life lessons. There was never a dull moment with that group. The boys’ voices changed throughout the year. The girls changed boyfriends every couple of weeks. Some were dealing with their parent’s divorce. Others were just trying to keep their mom from embarrassing them at the mall.
In the midst of all the ups and downs stood Katie. She was the teen you could build a whole group around. She had the house where all the kids hung out and parents with a minivan. She was brilliant, and mouthy. She had bright red hair and a disposition so sunny the entire group nicknamed her “Anne of Green Gables.” If the group got too serious, she’d tell a hysterical story or awful joke to lighten things up. If the group got boring she would ask the most provocative pain-in-the-butt question she could find, just to start a conversation.
The kids graduated and scattered and life went on. In the days before social media moving meant losing touch. We might have been better with impermanence then, or at least more used to it. In July of 2015 I received an inbox message.
“Hi Kellie. I just got off the phone with my mom, who talked to Katie’s mom. I thought you would want to know. Our Anne of Green Gables is gone.”
Six days after marrying the man of her dreams, a fast moving storm enveloped the Colorado mountains where she and her husband were hiking on their honeymoon. Before they could reach shelter, Katie was struck by lightning. She died instantly. She was 31.
Although she had not been a part of my daily life for a long time, all the lights in the house of my soul went dark for a few minutes. When you see an obituary where the picture is a freshly taken image of a luminous bride it tells you, in no uncertain terms, that impermanence is not a joke.
Katie’s death, and her beautiful, vivacious life, remind me that we suffer because we hold on to people who are not going to be here forever. And yet, we also thrive, because we once held them so close. Acceptance of impermanence is not a fatalistic or gleeful recognition that we all die. It is the assurance that we are warriors of the bravest, finest caliber because we love in the first place; because we stand before the pain of loss defiantly embracing each other with full knowledge it will someday end.
We are not enlightened by the reality that nothing lasts. We are enlightened by the compassionate life bonds we make even though we can see lightning in clouds above us.
Green Gables is different without its Anne. By loving her in the first place, it is forever changing, forever bettering. That’s impermanence.
Kellie Schorr works as a commissioned novelist who writes mystery genre novels for publication services. Her published writing credentials also include: journal articles, short stories, and a two-year stint writing for a web-comic. Kellie’s fiction is represented by the Kathryn Green Literary Agency. Kellie has been practicing meditation for over 15 years. She studies Dharma and took Refuge vows in the Shambhala lineage of Buddhism. When she’s not sitting down to write, or sitting on her cushion, she enjoys comic books, computer games, tea, and movies. She lives and works in rural Virginia with her partner, Cathy, and three beagles. Her favorite word is chiaroscuro.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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