You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

-Paul Simon

Sometimes we love a moment so much that it hurts to think about it ending, so we cling to it. We long to capture our present and preserve it, keep it from changing – like taking a picture. Sometimes it isn’t love that makes us grasp at a moment, but the fear of what might come next. We crave fixity, when everything around us is in flux.

Maybe I am alone in that need, but I don’t think so.

Regardless of the reason, I think much suffering comes from clinging to what is known, what is familiar, to who we are at any given time. Life feels so much more manageable when we have planned out what will happen and prevented the unexpected – when we are safe.

It doesn’t work that way, of course.

Life is change. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is static. Stuff happens. We become who we are and who we will be through a process of beginnings and endings. Facing that reality can be so frightening, it’s no wonder we sometimes attempt to capture where we are under glass.

Yesterday I woke up to one of my cats in the midst of a terrible bout of ill. It was bad. I’ll refrain from sharing the bloody details, but since that was not a figurative statement, we had an unplanned trip to the vet.

As we drove I couldn’t help but remember another unplanned trip. I didn’t realize Ginger was feeling the same thing until I looked over and saw a tear sliding down her cheek. I asked if she was scared for Marvel, and she said no, she too was remembering our last emergency trip. She had flashed back to our efforts to stay calm in the midst of our fear and pain. She pointed to a billboard and said, “I remember driving past that and reciting Thich Nhat Hanh.” I had done the same thing, and it has since become a mantra of mindfulness for both of us:

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
It is a wonderful moment.*

I remember driving, panicked, whispering that mantra almost prayerfully, trying to regain a semblance of calm. I remember driving as fast as I could listening to our terribly wounded, much loved, pet with Ginger trying to keep her calm. I remember my hopelessness, my fear, and just wanting everything to be back as it had been – back to our photograph of a happier moment.

But the world had moved on, and so had we.

Yesterday, as we continued on our way, I thought about how my practice of letting go is starting to take root. I am learning to resist the urge to cling and grasp at conceptions of how things need to be, or used to be or how I want them to be. I am learning to be with my now even when it is hard. I am learning to savor the wonderfulness of life, of who and what I love, even though I know that eventually I will lose it. The moment will end, because the essence of life is change.

Marvel is doing much better today. That makes me very happy. Knowing some day she will not be here makes her presence in my day even sweeter.

Learning to embrace the present in the midst of the unexpected can be freeing at the same time as it scares us. Mindfulness requires us to become comfortable with the dis-comfort of flux. But I think that paradox – comfort with dis-comfort – is essential to really living. When we grasp too tightly, when we seek control and safety and cling to even the wonderful moments, we are feeling the fear of change more than that which we love. Only by letting go do we get to really live.

Photographs don’t do life justice, after all.

*One of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness tools.

::Lisa Rokusek also writes at The Rhino and the Buddha::

November 21, 2009 10:19 am

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