I was looking at some family photographs recently and found some of a favourite aunt, both as a young woman and as an old lady. In one, she was holding her son, my only cousin. My mind floated back to many incidents where they had been at loggerheads over some trivial incident or another. Of course, to her they were not trivial at the time; it was only later that she viewed it with regret. In those days, punishment for bad behaviour was more stringent than it seems to be today and I remember her being so angry with him – this truculent, challenging late teenager who would push her buttons deliberately and stir up an argument between her and his father as often as he could.
At the time, that is what she thought she had – time. She thought that things would stay just as they were yet the evidence of impermanence was there; this little baby of hers was now a surly adolescent. She remained the ‘actively involved’ parent, always wanting him to live in the way she thought was best. Yet she did not have a happy marriage or had fulfilled her dreams in many ways. In fact, according to her mother, my grandmother, she was equally challenging as a young woman. She was there with her opinions throughout my cousins’ apprenticeship, marriage, parenting, divorce and remarriage. She shifted her allegiance depending on his compliance to her wishes – he continued to rebel.
Finally, she outlived him; she struggled with the pain and sorrow but she lived the rest of her life with a philosophical attitude. She wished so many times she had been closer to him, had done it differently but her journey gave me so much more understanding; when to be supportive and when to leave it alone, to choose my battles, to always act in a way that does not leave a feeling of guilt and, most importantly, that nothing stays the same.
What we are so concerned about today, will merely merge into our life tomorrow. We work within the idea that what is today, will still be tomorrow, but it isn’t. Our perception of stability is an illusion: everything is vulnerable, temporary and changing. So many people, men especially, believe they are defined by the job they do; society has created that within them. Many are often more loyal with their time to the company than they are to their own family yet the company will retrench them without a thought if it works in their favour. We see it constantly on News programmes that yet another company has ‘slim lined’ their work force for the sake of profitability.
No matter how hard we try to solidify our lives, nothing can stay the same or last forever. Everything follows the simple laws of nature – that there must be constant flow. A river flows, finding its way across the earth, constantly heading towards the sea. It forges a path that twists and turns to suit the lie of the land but if that flow is blocked it becomes static with a completely different identity; it become a dam.
Our denial of that basic truth is the reason we become confused even scared. We suffer because we are projecting the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually conditioned and constantly changing. Everything is interrelated and interdependent and it’s the nature of things to come together and fall apart.
It is human nature to always want; to look for the new. To see this in ourselves, we only have to observe a very young child constantly move from one thing to the next, continually looking for pleasure and rarely satisfied with what they have. This natural behaviour begins as exploration and is later exploited to create the illusion of happiness from external stimulation. It builds on itself generation after generation until we believe the illusion.
We are constantly bombarded by the media and advertising agencies telling us that we will be happier and more fulfilled when we have this new car, move to a bigger house, have this gadget or go to this amazing place. The fact is though, when we achieve it, the pleasure is short lived, eventually dissolving and then we find we are not happier at all!
We suffer because we organise our life around the concept that all endures and we live in a solid world yet it is simply ideas and forms coming in and out of existence. If we stop for a second and look at what’s really going on; look with our feelings and senses rather than analysing with a brain full of other people’s thoughts, we can sense clearly what is happening. We begin to realise that we cannot control the flow of life to keep it the same. All we can do, is allow ourselves to flow like the river and find a way around the obstacles in our path not fearing the change but embracing the adventure of the new.
That’s the actual reality of our situation; everything evolves whether we try to stop it or not. When we flow with it, we are happier, more relaxed and experience fulfillment.