Lessons in Impermanence

Lessons in Impermanence, 3 Reasons to Live Fully Right now

Until my 30’s I thought I had time, until time nearly took me, and abruptly, without notice at that. Perhaps you too think you have until tomorrow or the next day, or even some day. Maybe they will come and maybe not. One day we will have our last today and there will be no tomorrow, and as we don’t get given an expiration date when we are born, we have no idea how long our tomorrows will continue to come.

I was rudely ejected from my notion of having time when I nearly died in my very own bed in the early hours of Sunday, September 9, 2001. Years later, I could not help but smile at the irony of my life changing moment in my bed, growing up with the saying, “you made your bed, you lie in it”, well I burned mine to the ground-don’t tell me what to do! It took me a while to smile about it.

Just before 6am, as I slept in my bed, a fire raged trough our house as we slept soundly in our beds. Two rooms were engulfed in flames and smoke, I felt along the wall but couldn’t find the door to get out, I knew I should be on the the ground under the smoke but didn’t feel like I had time. Then I took in a huge gulp of smoke and I thought I was going to die right there and then.

There is nothing quite like fire to remind us that nothing lasts forever, and even if tomorrow does come, it, or we, are never the same again.

That Saturday night I had planned to go and draw trees in Golden Gate Park the next day, “tomorrow”, after seeing a woman doing the same thing that morning as I walked my room-mates dog.

Now my tomorrow did come, that time, but it was nothing like I planned. My art supplies that I had rushed out to buy, were gone, as were all our possessions bar a few things, like my Dharma books, my shrine and a Kundalini Yoga book I had bought the day before. I had been kissed by Kundalini only the week before the fire, while at Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing optional sanctuary North of San Francisco.

Like the Phoenix, I rose from the fire and it changed not only my life but also my perspective, forever. I realized that while I could aspire to save money, I could never save time. I also became very familiar with the concept of untimely death, after all when is death ever really timely? The fragility of life became compelling enough to me that I had no choice but to make change. I wanted to experience more of what I now found to be this very precious life.

Easy to say, not to so easy to do! I had no idea where to start, so I decided to start exactly where I was. I felt like I had been given a clean slate, I had no home, few possessions survived, and a heart forever changed by the events of the 5 days surrounding the fire: on Friday a friend died, on Saturday I had my first and only car accident in a friend’s car, on Sunday our house burned down, and very nearly took us with it, not much happened on Monday, and then on Tuesday as I sat with a friend’s mum that I was staying with after the fire, we turned on the TV to see the World Trade Centers came down.

STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF! Nothing would ever be the same again, impermanence at play.

And here’s the thing, it’s not a one-shot lesson, this lesson in impermanence. It’s always lurking and reminding us in life’s events, if we pay attention. This past week we were at the hospital with a loved one. Today as I type, there is a wild fire consuming over 70,000 acres, just 100 miles North of us. Towns and valleys have been devastated and destroyed, over 1400 firefighters are on Day 5 of fighting this fast moving fire. There it is again, fire, reminding us of the true power of nature leaving her lessons in the ashes, just as my own fire did.

When asked what my biggest lesson from the fire was, I replied, “Impermanence”. It was the harshest lesson I ever learned, yet later in the comfort of time, it had the sweetest after taste. But in the moment and the weeks following, it was hard.

Everything I thought I could keep, my writing in my journals, my laptop and all my back up drives were gone, eaten by hungry flames licking their way through our belongings. The cards and memories I had saved and moved across continents were no more, the 1000’s of books I had collected became perfect tinder for a fire.

All gone, fire does not discriminate, it eats everything in its wake. A pile of burned rubble was all that was left when we returned to the scene after spending the day in the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning.

And 14 years later my heart hurts to think of the pain and devastation caused by over 71,000 acres just burning, no respite for the animals, trees, structures and homes, all licked by the lips of fire before being consumed and transformed to ash. 1000’s of people and homes under threat, whole communities without anything but each other-and that is where community lives, in each other, in our hearts, not in structures- they will be rebuilt.

But make no mistake, even with love on your side it can be tough not to have a roof and your belongings. And that will only serve to deepen the love, love will always remain.

Nothing is forever, and nothing stays the same, it can be a harsh lesson to unfold. Within the range of the current fire was Harbin Hot Springs, the place of my own re-birth. I celebrated the 14th anniversary last week of my first visit there and my own fire, and now it is gone, eaten by a fire of it’s own, as are most of Middletown and Cobb among others.

As the fire rages and we say our prayers and dance for rain, it is, I believe, a reminder for the rest of us to live fully in the only time we have, the present moment. We really do not have time to be anywhere but here, right now, in this present moment. But just in case you need more persuasion, here are three reasons that made themselves known to me after my fire to live more fully in the moment. They may seem incredibly simple, because they are, and yet they make all the difference. Add a sprinkle of these into your life and see it bloom. Here goes:

1. Tomorrow is not guaranteed
James Dean said, “Live every day like it’s your last, because one day you will be right.” Need I say more? We are here for only as long as our borrowed bodies will last, and in my mind, whether that is a long or short time, all time is now. I wanted to draw trees for my tomorrow, and it never came, Universe had other plans, others were going to Harbin “tomorrow” only to find that though tomorrow came, Harbin was no longer there.

Don’t wait for life to run out of time or give you a 911 situation, to realize how precious it really is, try not breathing right now and see how good that next breath feels-that’s the miracle of life right there. Do what you yearn for today, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

2. Do it while you can
A little like the tomorrow’s that don’t come, we can think we will be able to do something tomorrow, only to find we can no longer do that thing-think about touching your toes, some can and most can’t. When was the day that you could touch your toes and the day that you could not?

It’s a fine line between being able to do something one day and no longer being able to do the same thing. So as Cemaaj and I always say to another, we are doing it while we can, because we can. It’s a use it or lose it card, and I vote use it!

3. Because this is IT-don’t be an Easter egg!
This life is not a dress rehearsal, it’s happening right now. There are no guaranteed second chances. We have one life to live and we get to choose how we do that, who we do it with, where we do it, and everything in between, or we can let life decide for us. I thought I had time for the other stuff, I was busy curating a life around my prestigious career, and I created a life that I couldn’t even have dreamed of-I made it happen.

Highly accomplished on the outside, international Corporate Securities attorney, working in the top firms in the world, oceans away from my English village roots, and yet empty on the inside, just like an Easter egg. I was all chocolate on the the outside and hollow inside. Or at least I felt hollow, little did I know I was to find out that there was so much more inside of me that I had no clue existed.

I had to almost lose my life to embrace life to find it. What if you embraced your life, what might you find inside of you? What if you managed to do this without having to almost lose your life in the process?

Of course there are many more reasons to live fully, but I doubt you need much more to get my drift! It’s easy to let life, the tragedies, the mundane, the exciting, the scary, the urgent and pressing, and everything in between, all grab our attention to take control of what and how we do things, but like all of life even they will pass, nothing is forever. And from big fires the Phoenix will rise, re-birth will come from the sorrow held in those ashes. Nothing lasts forever, including the charred forest floor. Life will rise again from the ashes.

Our darkest moments pave the way for the light at the end of the tunnel. So as I write and send prayers to Panchamama, our Earth Mother, where can you find re-birth in the ashes of your own sorrows? Where can you live more fully in present moment of your life?

Have you ever had a stop the world I want to get off moment? Did you take the invitation and jump, or are you still spinning out of orbit? And how about you and impermanence, do share where and how she has whispered her lesson in your life?

Let me leave you with this quote:

Everything flows and nothing abides
everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
~Heraclitus~

Hug your loved ones and let them know they are loved, and be kind to yourself, for love can never be taken from us and will only ever grow when tended to.

Sending you love, see you on the other side of the rainbow.
Sat nam