Saturday, 11 October 2014

Autumn: Impermanence & Change

Some folk tell me that Spring and maybe even Summer are the seasons for falling in love. Perhaps they say the same to you. I am not convinced. I think it’s Autumn, glorious Autumn, beautiful Autumn, best of the year. Everything just seems that bit more precious at this time of year. Maybe the reason for this is because this is the time when things come to an end, or begin to come to an end. Maybe everything is that bit more beautiful at this time of year, because everything is dying. Or at least it seems that way. It’s an awareness of this, a real sense of this in my blood and in my soul, right down in the marrow of my soul, that helps me fall in love with life in a much deeper way. I feel a sense of love for every leaf as it falls. For every leaf is a letter from God. Every leaf teaches us something about life. We are leaves ourselves. Everyone precious; everyone unique; everyone will one day fall.

Autumn is the season for falling in love; Autumn is the season for falling in love with life in every sense. Autumn is the season when we once again see just how precious everything is. Everything matters…Everything matters...

Everything matters because it does not last for ever, it is finite. You know there was a time that I used to think that nothing mattered for this very same reason. Now I understand that everything matters. Every drop of rain, every thought and feeling, every word and every action matters. I hope and pray that you know that. Everything matters, because nothing ever lasts forever.

Autumn I love you, I pay homage to all that you teach me…Autumn, glorious Autumn, beautiful Autumn, best of the year…

Autumn is the season of change. It reveals to us the impermanence of our finite lives. Here in lays the beauty of life, but also its fear…

There is a gorgeous Buddhist saying that, I recently heard, that captures the beauty of the impermanence of life. It beautifully captures the turning nature of life, it is a call to us to live our lives fully.

“Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world: a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering flame, an illusion, a dream...”

Impermanence is the beauty and the energy of life. Life is forever changing and transforming and turning into something new.

Jesus captured this idea in a gorgeous way too when he described wheat as a metaphor for the resurrected life. He taught that all must die before new life can rise again. In the same way that seeds must die and cease being seeds in order to become life giving food, so must we in order to be transformed into something new. This can happen at many stages of our lives if we allow the natural cycle to just be and don’t get in the way.

Nothing ever stays exactly the same and nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way again. This was wonderfully expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago. Who said, among many other things, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” And “Nothing endures but change.” He was saying that the only constant in life was and is change, that life was constantly in flux and that everything is impermanent. In more contemporary times The Buddhist Pema Chodron has said “Impermanence is the goodness of reality…it’s the essence of everything.”

Also in more recent times the now deceased Unitarian Universalist minister Elizabeth Tarbox said

“Dukkha, all is impermanence, nothing lasts. I thought of that yesterday while watching leaves come down in a shower and inhaling the smell of rotting leaves returning to the earth. Leaf to humus and back to earth to nourish the roots of the mother tree, The crows crying as the leaves fall and their nests are exposed – dukkha, all is impermanence.

Life goes by and people who were with us last year at this time have died. All souls pass on, all is dukkha, nothing lasts.”

I have for some time been fascinated by the Buddhist concept of “Dukkha”.

Now "Dukkha is one of those words that is hard to explain. It is often translated as suffering, that "all life is suffering". This though is not an entirely accurate translation, in the sense that suffering is understood in the west. I believe it is trying to teach that suffering is a part of life, that nothing ever lasts for ever. That nothing stays exactly as it in its current state. Impermanence is central to the Buddhist path; the path to enlightenment is to accept that nothing ever lasts forever.

So often in life we try to cling to things, to hold on to things to maintain things exactly as they are. This seems to be going against life and the nature of things. Nothing stays exactly as it is in its current nature, everything changes from moment to moment and to resist this is to resist life.

In “Everyday Spiritual Practice” James Ishmail Ford talks about the lessons he has learnt from practising Zen Buddhism. He tells the tale of Achaan Chah Subato and the story of broken glass. Which he recalls goes something like this:

“One day some people came to the master and asked 'How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness and death?' The master held up a glass and said 'Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.'"

Here lies the lesson of impermanence. Knowing that the glass is already broken we can enjoy it in all its finite beauty.

Those falling leaves that signal Autumn’s arrival remind us of the cycle of nature that is mirrored in our own lives. They are love letters from God reminding us that we too must let go and let the spirit flow in and through us and take charge of our lives, so that we can be at one with all life.

Now the way to do this is to live openhearted. We have to be open to all that is. How do we do this? Well in “Awake Mind, Open Heart” Cynthia Kneen suggest the following Autumnal practise:

"When you are brave and have an open heart, you have affection for this world — this sunlight, this other human being, this experience. You experience it nakedly, and when it touches your heart, you realize this world is very fleeting. So it is perfect to say 'Hello means good-bye.' And also, 'My hope, hello again.' "

It’s about being open to all that is. It is prayer and meditation that allows me to do this. Simple time alone in silence enables me to be open to all that is as I walk through life, slowly but surely noticing all that is, understanding that everything matters. Experiencing that same spirit, God, in everything. And thus receiving love letters from God in every falling leaf.

Autumn is the season for falling in love; Autumn is the season for falling in love with life in every sense. Autumn is the season when we once again see just how precious everything is. You see everything matters…Everything matters because it does not last for ever, it is finite. Every drop of rain, every thought and feeling, every word and every action matters. I hope and pray that you know that. Everything matters, because nothing ever lasts forever.

Autumn I love you, I pay homage to all that you teach me…Autumn, glorious Autumn, beautiful Autumn, best of the year…

I’m going to end with some beautiful words on Autumn by Robert T Weston

“Autumn Speaks” by Robert T Weston

Out of doors
the colors of bright autumn and the bright sun
tell of the beauty of that which dies
But always comes again.
They speak directly to the heart
of the eternal which outlives all moments
and yet lives only in them,
outlives all forms, yet comes again in them as in ourselves.
It is said that there is nothing new in the world,
no thoughts, even, which others have not thought
yet every thought is new to him who for himself
thinks it for the first time.
Each miracle of life is also rebirth, life born again,
though every individual be new,
existing at his birth for his first time.
Life in each one, as in leaf and flower,
accepts and yet cheats death.
There is a sadness in the autumn leaf: I feel a sorrow that its beauty dies
and feel its message for the lives of those,
as of myself, whom I have known and loved.
The leaf comes not again, though other leaves
and flowers will bloom, and other lives,
richer that we have been, shall take our place.
Perhaps the autumn teaches us a wiser grace
through which we live, by learning to let go.

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