When I was a teenager in the 70s, we all watched the Monty Python TV show. There was usually a moment in the show when out of nowhere you’d hear a weird blast of French horns and a booming voice from the clouds would say, “And now for something completely different!” Buddhism teaches you that every moment is like that. But by the time you’ve announced it, you’re onto something else completely new.
Buddhist teachings haven’t given me answers. They’ve taught 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 sense of curiosity about this ever-present collection of ideas I had gotten so accustomed to calling “my life.” Because the Buddhist 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 was just one of those people who would never be happy. In my thirties, I spent a lot of time pretty blissed out on meditation and motherhood. And in my forties, I experienced a deep depression, a year of chronic fatigue, and a couple of years of debilitating chronic pain. At fifty, things looked amazingly bright again. Likewise, from decade to decade my mother, father, and brothers, as well as children and grandchildren, have gotten sick, then felt better after a while. 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, and one moment of embarrassing thoughtlessness is soon replaced by the next spontaneous moment of kindness.
One thing that remains constant is my gratitude to be able to practice meditation while remembering my family and friends. I turn to this habit to keep myself grounded when tough changes occur. As the years pass, the opportunities to respond to grief and loss do seem to come up 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 birth which will end one day, to recall that birth and death are as fleeting as a movie or a flash of lightning, to remember that we reap what we sow in this life, and to realize that diligent effort is necessary to end suffering. Because I had the good fortune to encounter these teachings, my family’s challenges and my own appear workable, and it’s possible to appreciate our very human losses as poignantly bittersweet, rather than merely tragic. Seeing each moment as innocent and on its way out, urges me to recognize the rare qualities to be found in every aspect of my own life and the lives of my family members. It’s a view that keeps prodding me to practice, to remember again and again that right now is always Something Completely Different.