Tag Archives: impermanence

imPermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Permanent: n. continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My grandkids –  Elliott who’s 4 and Alexander who is 7, were beyond thrilled to be able to enjoy a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.  (Their parents – my daughter and her husband – were not so thrilled to have to drive up here from sunny California in such nasty weather, but they picked the only 12-hour window in a week to make it through!).

The joint was jumpin’ for six days – the boys of all ages seemed more excited by the snow and playing Pokeman (a P post for another day) than the prospect of presents.  Gifts were pretty sparse anyway, giving us the chance to focus more on hanging out together.

Here are my two sons and Alexander, after inserting the snowman’s carrot nose, and clapping a hat on his head:

snowman-done

Starting Christmas night the temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning, right after the Californians left for home:

melted

He was only about 15″ high then; a few hours later he’s just a tiny snowball.

And now the house is totally quiet again.  The holiday came and went as fast as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

One of our snowed-in activities (which turned out to be much more fun than my older two first thought) was going through the many boxes of their’ memorabilia which I’ve stored in one garage or another since they left for college eons ago.  “Whatever stuff you want to keep,” I said, “is going to henceforth be living with you, so choose wisely.”

Heather had only one box left here, but Ethan had six – packed to the gills. To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own written memorabilia to sort through. I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (mostly artwork, homework, book reports, photos and letters), tossing about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest.  Already in middle school you could see hints of who he would become – the fascination with edgy design – the originality of his ideas – and his writing skill, which I’d just taken for granted until he began writing for HuffPo last month.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

My own journals and letters are voluminous. I’ve got them going back to college and it will take a long time to sort through them. The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

If I hadn’t recorded all those experiences they’d otherwise be gone gone gone – melted away like our snowman.

Update 1/4/09: Blogfriend Splodge forwarded this cartoon… too good not to append.

snowman

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Plants and permanence

Permanent: fixed and changeless; lasting; not expected to change in status, condition or place
Permanence: the condition of quality of being permanent

I spent much of the weekend in the garden, dealing with my plants (wanted and unwanted). Last week I hired Joe to deal with the plethora of my unwanted plants (otherwise known as weeds), and the garden looked fabulous. The rhodies, iris and peonies were at their peak, and the roses coming on.

But now the rhody bushes are covered with dead florets and look like hell. Ditto the iris and peonies. I want everything to STOP! Why won’t the rhodies just STAY in perfect bloom? Ditto the iris and peonies.

If there is one thing plants teach it’s impermanence. A plant is at its peak only for a couple of weeks. Cut a flower to bring inside and maybe it lasts a few days.

A few years ago I took an Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) class at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Portland. The teacher had brought all sorts of plant materials as well as just enough low vases and kenzan (the spiky base that hold stems in place) for each of us. I have had a fair amount of ikebana training so the lesson wasn’t particularly new for me, but some of the materials were novel (those flat sweet little peaches, for example).

We all fixed and fussed on our own arrangements for maybe an hour. Mine turned out the most beautiful, the most interesting, the most wonderful (etc etc etc) arrangement I had ever created (at least I thought so). It totally tickled me, particularly how I’d used the peach and picked up its subtle colors in the other plant materials I used.

The teacher walked us from arrangement to arrangement tweaking here and there and discussing what worked in each one. We were inspired by each other’s creations.

Then she said, “OK, take them apart. We’re going to do another arrangement and you’ll need to re-use that vase.”

WHAT !?!?! My chef ‘ouevre? The pinnacle of my ikebana career? Destroyed after only one hour??

I know that plants are ephemeral, but to KILL an arrangement after only one hour was unthinkable! And I didn’t even bring a camera to capture it on film for my continuing pleasure.

Buddhist teachings stress that all is impermanent, that attachment is suffering.  I got it.