On Mother’s Day week, one of my friends posted a picture of her mom on social media and shared something pretty emotional that almost brought me to tears. They had gone on a walk and my friend mused about how life had changed in a few decades.
She said something that could be summarized (as well translated) as: “There I was, at the park, walking with my mom, who doesn’t walk so fast anymore, only to realize that maybe thirty years ago, she was the one pushing me to walk a little faster, to go a little further, who cheered me up not to give up. Where did time go? She’s not so strong anymore and she knows that. She’s also sad that her hand used to hold onto me firmly, and now it’s my hand that supports her and stops her from falling. Welcome to the sad circle of life.”
I felt emotional about her anecdote because I felt the same last year when my mom came to visit me and we took long walks together. As time passes, I worry more and more about my parents’ health. I am not “cool” with the idea of the circle of life, either. I still struggle and I think it’s sad and unfair. Shouldn’t all those who have done so much now enjoy perfect health and live happily ever after, without diseases or external concerns? A life Benjamin Button style – at least that’s what my “ego-mind” considers to be fair.
Then I remembered the concept of impermanence, which seems to be the core of Buddhism. The idea is that we shouldn’t grasp or hold onto anything, but regard all events in life with observance and equanimity. That’s the only way to keep us sane. If we are not holding too tight, it is normally easier to let go.
But, boy, how we tend to be in control. We want to avoid sad emotions, bad feelings, unhappy events. We fight so hard to stop anything from ruining our plans. But we don’t realize that everything in life is impermanent and even the best moments will also pass. So why fighting so hard for perfection when, in fact, perfection will also vanish soon?
It’s like planning a cookout with friends in your backyard. Even though it’s supposed to be beautiful and sunny, in the back of your mind you remember that it’s summer, and sometimes you see a few thunderstorms in the area. The rain could come, so you make extra plans. Just in case. If it rains, you’ll move everyone inside, put some tables out in the living room, and it should be fine. Everyone should be happy. Kids will be dry and you’ll play some Disney movies so they could be happy.
Because all you want is to have a nice day with friends. All you want is to be content. Mr. Weather, don’t you shouldn’t dare ruin my afternoon plans.
And that is just a small example of how we live our lives. Mostly planning for the worst. Like the proverb says, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” We are taught this from an early age. So how can we even understand the concept of impermanence? How can we even understand that yes, it’s okay to make plans, but in case the plans also don’t work, it’s going to be fine too?
It’s okay to have a little thunderstorm in your backyard, it won’t be the end of the world. Maybe the kids will love to play in the rain. Maybe someone will laugh when they get soaked and will make a funny joke about it. Maybe you’ll see your friends laughing at how the pie got destroyed and they will even take pictures of the disaster and post it on Instagram.
The bottom line is, that the cookout will pass regardless if it rains or not. Nothing stays. And if we learn how to appreciate life and all the endless possibilities of how events may turn, and not worry so much about the outcome, maybe we will be a little happier. If we are not happy about the outcome of anything we were planning for, it is also okay to be upset about it. But just for a moment. Honor your feelings, shed a tear if necessary, but then let it go. The longer you hold onto things, the harder it will be for you to release them.
Releasing is part of impermanence. Appreciate the flower, love it, smell it, then be ready to accept that it will soon fade away. Like everything in life. Everything will fade. Our parents, our kids, all good and bad moments will pass.
A good friend of mine was once contemplating our group at the dinner table by saying, “I’m happy we are all gathered here. This moment will never return again. We may come back to this restaurant someday. But it will be different. People will be different. They will be going through different experiences, they will have different stories to share, different jokes. So I’m so happy to be here now.”
I was so touched to hear that my friend had the right perception of life. That every moment needs to be cherished because everything shall pass.
We should be happy and grateful we are breathing. We are here experiencing this moment, reading this article, safe in our homes or with a roof above our heads. We’ve been given a lot more than some people. So we shouldn’t be so sad about the circle of life. Although our ancestors may need our care and presence, it’s okay to let them go too. It is always okay to let anything go. It hurts. I understand this because I tend to hold onto things very tightly. But I’m slowly improving. And I hope you are too.
Enjoy the moment, seize the day, smell the flowers. Then let it go so you are ready for whatever comes next.