On seeing changes in nature

The swallows are flying low over the fields and are more visible in noisy groups now. They prepare to depart, even though the weather is still very mild. I found it an interesting learning experience to watch them –  the sensation of  joy which I had in their movement  in the late afternoon sun  was immediately followed by a pang of sadness in the thought that they will soon be gone. How hard it is just to allow things be, as they are, without wanting to hold on or immediately adding on some extra thoughts! It is easy to know intellectually that all things change, often in ways that we cannot predict. However, knowing that deep in my bones and accepting it is not always as simple.   In this case,  acceptance was not too difficult to achieve  – swallows come and go in their own time and there is no way to stop them. So I am grateful for these Autumn changes  –  becoming more visible each day – as among the most important tools for learning which I have. They gently repeat,  over and over again,   many of the same truths. They allow me see how change has an effect on my moods and how I like to hold on. They show us how often I  relate to things depending on how they make me feel, rather than with complete freedom. I resist change each day but change is inevitable; my happiness is related to the way I choose  to respond to it.

Nothing is so fleeting as external form,

which withers and alters

like the flowers of the field at the appearance of autumn.

Umberto Eco

The start of Autumn and letting go

Autumn is the season of reaping what has been sown and of things coming to fruition. Traditionally, it is also the period when one begins to wind down and celebrate the abundance and goodness of the earth, before the year moves into the dark and cold time of winter. Because of the rich colours and changing light it is a very suggestive time, and leads us to reflect on changes and growth, as well as letting things go and moving on. From the Autumn Equinox onwards the days get shorter and darkness and night take center stage. These changes are natural and remind us of the balance in our lives between light and darkness, growth and rest. We often more naturally prefer light and warmth to the dark and the cold. However, in this poem,  we are reminded that some of the darkness in our lives is also a time of growth, as necessary as the bright days of Spring or Summer. The poet reflects on loss, and sees reflections of her struggle and grief outdoor in Nature. She sees the challenge, where she needs to go – to let go “as trees let go their leaves,” and “treelike, stand unmoved before the change.”

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

May Sarton, Autumn Sonnets

Endings give rise to new beginnings

I know that when I struggle with the pain of any loss, the struggle preoccupies my mind and leaves no room for hope. However, when I recognize the pain I feel as the legitimate result of loss, I am respectful of its presence and kind to myself. My mind always relaxes when it is kind, and around the edges of the truth of whatever has ended, I see displays of what might be beginning.

Sylvia Boorstein

How to deal with the losses in our lives

In the Easter Story there are universal themes, such as the place of  forgiveness in our lives, the role of  hope when go through some things we cannot understand, the fight against abandonment and isolation, and how to work with a humanity that is weak and sometimes fails us. The heart of the story on this Friday afternoon concerns death and burial in a tomb. It leads me to reflect on how we deal with the sadness that comes from the losses in our lives, how we cope when someone or something goes away and we are left to stand and deal with an absence.  What can we do when we feel that there is a heavy stone  blocking our life or when we find ourselves in some  lost place?

Sometimes, whether by circumstances or by the result of  actions we have chosen, we are faced with a degree of change which seems  to stretch us beyond our capacity to deal with it. We can feel like the women in the gospel story who stand beside the tomb, confronted with loss and pain.  As there was in them, there can be a longing in us, and frequently a lot of  unresolved questions. Sometimes we feel this longing as an emptiness.  We can feel helpless at times like this, and passive, in the sense of having to deal with something which is not of our choosing.

However, we can get strength from reflecting on the meaning which others have drawn from these archetypal stories over thousands of years. And one of messages of these three days is that the experience of the tomb is not the end of the story. Often  things dying in our lives are simply creating space for something else to be born. Any time we have an experience which bring us into  contact with  something greater than the then limited capacity of our ego is always a wounding experience, but can lead to growth.  However, it takes time for us to see that.  All we can do is allow  the passing days take us, gradually,  deeper into our heart.  Just because some experiences leave us feeling helpless does not mean that we are a failure. We have within us capacities which can only emerge in moments of difficulty. Everyday,  since we were little , we have had to deal with losses, big and small. Thus, even though we do not like it,  loss in our life is not totally unknown. It may feel terrifying for a while but we have walked some of this way already with our lesser losses. Thus we can try to continue to trust, despite not understanding what is going on, and in this way we will emerge changed, but alive, on the other side.

We can also get strength in a personal way from the simple practice  that we do each day. We try to stay at the tomb of our losses and sadness and resist the understandable instinct to run away. We practice this in our sitting and in our everyday frustrations and in this way we find in ourselves the strength to stay when something bigger happens.

When we wake up to how human life on this planet actually is, and stop running away or building walls in our heart, then we develop a wiser motivation for our life. And we keep waking up as the natural dukkha [suffering] touches us. This means that we sharpen our attention to catch our instinctive reactions of blaming ourselves, blaming our parents, or blaming society; we meditate and access our suffering at its root; and consequently we learn to open and be still in our heart. And even on a small scale in daily life situations, such as when we feel bored or ill at ease, instead of trying to avoid these feelings by staying busy or buying another fancy gadget, we learn to look more clearly at our impulses, attitudes, and defenses. In this way dukkha guides and deepens our motivation to the point where we’ll say, “Enough running, enough walls, I’ll grow through handling my blocks and lost places.”

Ajahn Sucitto, Turning the Wheel of Truth

Do not look for answers

Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.


Learning from loss in our lives

A clear, cold night. Stars in the night sky. They are there, as they have been for people for millions of years, seemingly unchanging, but actually moving and evolving, just as we are.

Surviving a loss and letting go is only half of the story. The other half is the secret belief that we will find, in one form or another, what we have lost. And it is that potential, shimmery as a star on a clear night that helps us survive.

Veronica Chambers