The Seasons of Life
We can live wisely only when we accept the reality of change.
Where I lived as a Buddhist monk, impermanence was central to the curriculum. We deliberately contemplated change, our moods, the seasons, the passing of visitors, our aging, and the movement of our breath until we could see life as an unstoppable river. When Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was asked to sum up all Buddhist teaching he offered this simple phrase: “Not always so.”
Indeed, it was in the forest monastery that I began to taste the beauty of change and transformation. I remember how vividly mindfulness practice awakened my senses. I grew up in a suburban intellectual family, and the outdoors meant the backyard. But in the monastery, the temple buildings were in a central clearing, surrounded by towering teak trees and tropical vines, by thick woods filled with wild birds and cobras. Our small huts were scattered throughout this forest.
In this forest I learned to feel the turning of the seasons, the sweaty robes and loud singing of the cicadas on hot summer nights, the muddy feet and endless dampness of the monsoon rains, the dry winds of the cool season when I would wrap my towel under my robe for an extra layer of warmth. This was the first time I could actually watch the slowly changing phases of the moon and the appearance of morning and evening planets at dawn and dusk. I came to love these rhythms.
Now I bow to change everywhere. I have learned to be gracious with it.
Of course, like everyone, I have suffered my losses, times of death, divorce, and certain failures. With compassion and clarity, we can see that every one of us participates in the constant cycles of life’s change and renewal, seasons of grief and suffering, as well as seasons of joy, celebrating life’s renewed marvels and beauty.
Nothing about life is solid, permanent. Where is our childhood?
Where are last year, last month, yesterday? Gone. Relationships transform, our work, home, love, all are in change. Our days vanish like a mirage or a dream. We can’t grasp feelings, experiences, and people as if they were ours to keep. They each have their season. If we cling we only get rope burn.
Yet there is another way. We know this, too. We can relax, take a breath, let go, be easy, not take it so personally. We can hold all the joys and sorrows with a wide and loving heart. We can surf amidst the waves of change and trust that renewal will also come. This is the secret….to accept change as a natural part of life and rest in a peaceful heart amidst it all.
Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki reminds us, “When we understand the truth of impermanence and find our composure in it, there we find ourselves in nirvana.”
For more from Jack, go to jackkornfield.com.
Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, and he is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California and a best-selling author. Jack was one of the leaders at the first-ever White House Buddhist Leadership Conference in 2015.
This essay was featured in the Sept. 23rd edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.