Anitya -- A time to float not to swim
I heard geese honking yesterday. Mid-November? Shouldn't they be gone by now? I craned my neck to see them, but they were swallowed by gray, snow clouds. I could hear them, though, and while not fluent in geese, here's a rough transcript:
"This is the 3rd time we've flown by that water tower, Bob."
"I think we might have missed the turn, Alice."
"You missed the turn! You insisted on leading."
"Me, too, can we land?"
"No time. Just ride the current, babies! Ride the current!"
This will require some research, or at least a chat with an ornithologist (fancy word for bird nerd). But since this is the age of eschewing research and facts, I will make up my own:
The geese are in a holding pattern. They are floating on air currents, awaiting further instructions. Just like me. Possibly, just like you.
The Presidential election has been decided to my satisfaction, but perhaps not to yours.
The pandemic rages across the country; my own state is being particularly ravaged. Will our loved ones miss the Covid-19 bullet? Will I? Will you? Time will tell.
Will the vaccine be effective? Will it be distributed to all who want it? Will it be void of side effects? Wait and see.
There will be empty chairs at my table this Thanksgiving as family remains cautious. Will they still be empty at Christmas? Will we miss birthday gatherings in January, February? Will we gather at Easter? What will summer of ’21 look like? When will we be able to travel freely, again? When will we attend live theatre? When will it feel safe to gather with friends? We won’t know until we know and not a moment sooner.
And so it goes in the Age of Uncertainty.
Isn't our existence always uncertain? Tomorrow is not a promise but a hope. Perhaps in times of greater "stability," we were better able to ignore the uncertainty. Or maybe our busyness allowed us to ignore it. Then there's privilege: Depending on one's level of privilege, this game of pretend seems less of a game and more like reality.
Have good health? You are not uncertain about your health. Have enough money? You are not uncertain about paying your rent. Have enough food in your fridge? You are not uncertain if you will eat tonight. Such certainty is an illusion, of course: Tomorrow you could discover a lump, you could lose your job, you could be at a food pantry. Lots of people right now never expected to be ______ .
But wait! There's good news: This world-wide uncertainty is also part of life’s anitya. This is the Sanskrit word for impermanence. Buddha reminds us that all things are impermanent – both the bad and the good. Christianity teaches that this earthly life is simply a way station before eternal life. Islam teaches the same. Pagans and Wiccans celebrate solstice and equinox, the waxing and waning of the moon. All is in transition. Even a five-year old comes to learn that “five more minutes” will come to an end.
Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, five-year old . . . We don’t like to think about the good times as temporary, but if you’ve lived as long as five years, certainly, you know it. The very best birthday party ends: balloons deflate and cake becomes stale. Friends who were closer than kin can drift away. The touch that once made our flesh tingle can become annoying. Summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter and spring is but a memory until -- the geese arrive honking again. "Follow me, Bob!"
Life, wonderous life, by its very nature, is impermanent. We all understand that. This is what makes life so precious. We can ignore the reality, but it is a fact that won't be wished away.
"I thought there was good news?"
These deeply uncertain times are also impermanent. Masks are temporary. Remote learning is temporary. Bar close at 10 pm is temporary. The geese will find their way, or – not. But they will not circle forever. In these uncertain times, there is one thing we can count on – anitya.
We must make peace with what is and not what was, or what could have been, and stay in the moment. For this moment? This moment of unnerving uncertainty is as impermanent as January 2020 when we were blissfully ignoring first reports of a virus in China.
Okay, so, remember when you first learned to float? You were told you could do it when you tired of swimming. So, you lay back and your parent’s hands held you up in the water. When you felt them move their fingertips away, you cried out, “Don’t let go! Don’t let go!” You flailed, you splashed, you made quite the spectacle of yourself, didn’t you? All of which made you sink faster. You didn’t think you’d ever learn to float. But then came that moment when you stopped flailing; you let go. You trusted. You discovered that by expending less energy you could rest lightly on the water’s surface.
There is peace in acceptance. Peace in relinquishing control. There is peace in letting go of expectations. There is peace in anitya.
Writing challenge: What expectations have you let go of that have made you lighter? They could be expectations you have/had for others or yourself. Beauty ideals come to mind, but there are many others you may have released. What are they?