When I was a teenager in the 70s, we watched the Monty Python TV show. There was usually a moment when out of nowhere a weird blast of French horns and a booming voice from the clouds would announce, “And now for something completely different!” Buddhism teaches you every moment is like that. By the time you’ve announced it, you’re onto something else, something new.
Dharma teachings don’t give me answers. They teach me how to live with questions, how to hold a question lightly without trying to squeeze the truth out of it. There’s a sense of ease, a constant curiosity about this ever-present collection of ideas I’ve gotten so accustomed to calling “my life.” Because the teachings on impermanence remind me this life is constantly shifting into something completely different.
In my twenties I was perpetually embroiled in drama, convinced I could never be happy. In my thirties, I spent a lot of time blissed out on meditation and motherhood. In my forties I experienced a deep depression, a year of chronic fatigue, and later, two years of debilitating chronic pain. At fifty, things looked amazingly bright again.
Likewise, from decade to decade my mother, father, and brothers, my children and grandchildren, have gotten sick then felt better after a time. Or they worried themselves silly for a while, then saw the humor and lightened up. Some got sick and didn’t get better. Some got worried and stayed worried. And so it goes.
Each new change is so fresh, so engaging, and yet a sunny sky always gives way to the next shocking storm. One moment of embarrassing thoughtlessness is soon replaced by the next spontaneous moment of kindness. What remains constant is my gratitude to be able to practice meditation while remembering family and friends. I turn to this habit to stay grounded when tough changes occur.
As the years pass, opportunities to respond to grief and loss have arisen more often. At these times it helps to have a habit of considering the four reminders given by the Buddha to his students — to remember the preciousness of this human life which will end one day, to recall that birth and death are as fleeting as a movie or a flash of lightning, to remember we reap what we sow in this life, and to realize diligent effort is necessary to end our suffering.
Due to the good fortune of encountering dharma teachings, I can see my family’s and my own challenges as workable. It’s possible to appreciate our very human losses as poignantly bittersweet, not merely tragic.
Seeing each moment as innocent and on its way out, helps me recognize the rare qualities to be found in every aspect of my life and the lives of those I love. It is a view that keeps prodding me to practice, to remember again and again that right now is always Something Completely Different.