Sand Castle

We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off-limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.

“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

I recently finished this book. It took me much longer than I anticipated because I would frequently stop to reflect on how things were showing up in my life.

I’ve reflected a lot on attachment recently [1, 2], and now this book also has me thinking about impermanence.

I remember previously working with a manager on my career progression. I was told in a 1:1 that my technical skills were up to snuff, so the thing I should be focused on to move forward was skills in the area of leadership. So for several weeks, I reflected on what I could be doing better, and practicing some of the stuff that we had talked about in that 1:1. A couple 1:1s later, though, and their position appeared to have reversed. Now I was told that leadership was my strength, and I just had a little bit to work on in the technical realm. And again, several 1:1s later and I was working on something different.

I felt completely ungrounded. I had no map to help me navigate. The beliefs I was using to evaluate reality, make decisions, and otherwise think were shown to be unreliable.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.

“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

I experienced something similar more recently while I was searching for a new home. It seemed like everyone I was looking to for advice had different opinions about what to look for. Something that was a red flag to one person was just a minor issue for someone else. Risks that were a big consideration to one person weren’t much of a concern to another. Homes that were acceptable in the past are no longer acceptable. Homes that were not acceptable in the past are now acceptable, although many things in this category are now missed opportunities.

Nevertheless, I was again feeling lost and stuck.

Each time something changed, I would hang on to that as if it were truth. When it turned out to not be a solid, consistent, reliable truth, I would feel a rush of many things: panic, confusion, frustration, annoyance, groundlessness, sadness, fear, etc.

Because I would experience something and become attached to that, I would suffer in the future when change happened. I would resist the present moment in all its impermanence and try to hold to my attachment.

Perhaps the scariest place where I struggle with this idea of impermanence is in the area of romance. [3, 4]

The idea of letting myself be truly seen by somebody who could one day be gone, or an enemy, is terrifying. To let someone see my insecurities, know my fears, understand what triggers me… it’s hard for me to allow myself to do that when I think about the impermanence of it.

But then that’s just self-sabotaging. I prevent people from connecting with me, which may prevent them from allowing me to see and connect with them. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of death.

In his own way, Trungpa Rinpoche devised such a course for his students. He’d have us memorize certain chants, and a few months after most of us knew them, he’d change the wording. He’d teach us specific rituals and be extremely precise about how they should be done. Just about the time we began criticizing people who did them wrong, he’d teach the rituals in a completely different way. We would print up nice manuals with all the correct procedures, but usually they were outdated before they came off the press. After years of this sort of training, one begins to relax one’s grip. If today the instruction is to put everything on the right, one does that as impeccably as one can. When tomorrow the instruction is to put everything on the left, one does that with one’s whole heart. The idea of one right way sort of dissolves into the mist.

“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

On coming to terms with impermanence (and exploring how I relate to my attachments), I was reflecting on meditation the past couple of days.

My experience with meditation thus far has largely been guided meditations through apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Insights Timer. I’ve never found these guided meditations to be particularly transformational, although they sometimes help me to fall asleep.

Something I am interested in trying is bringing those same techniques practiced through those apps and applying it to my interactions with other people.

I’m curious how my interactions with others will change if I can recognize my reactions to what they say and do. “That is a thought that I have about that.” “That is an opinion that I have.” “I feel this sensation in my body.” “I feel unsafe, confused, and ungrounded but I can choose to sit with this. This too shall pass.”

I don’t recall deliberately trying to meditate while interacting with other people. I think it will be incredibly difficult, but I also see some great opportunities for me there.

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