I feel over and over.
It is hardest to be the one left behind.
How wonderful it would be if, once we got things the way we wanted them, nothing ever changed. The best elements of our lives, the people we love, the activities and experiences we enjoy most, would go on and on forever. Our suffering would come to an end.
And yet we know from our own life experience that it isn't possible. All around us, things are arising and fading. Sometimes it seems like it's all going by too fast, like everything is changing and we can't keep up. We can feel like we're being left behind.
Of course, we're not standing by while the world whizzes past us. We ourselves aren't the same people we were even a moment ago -- we've breathed in and out a few more times, had a few more thoughts and insights, gotten a bit older. Impermanence is universal, and doesn't leave anyone out. Even when everything seems perfect and we have everything we want, in the next moment something changes. There's nothing we can really hold onto.
Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791 - 1875) was born into a samurai family and became a nun in the Zen Buddhist tradition following the death of her husband. She was an expert in painting, calligraphy, poetry, and pottery. As both an artist and a nun, she would have had a highly developed sense of mono no aware, the deep beauty inherent in the unavoidably transitory nature of existence. In her poem above, she enters directly into the feelings of loss and longing that come with watching the things we love, enjoy or admire come and go, arise and fade away. Over and over, we repeat the pattern of welcoming something into our lives, coming to value its presence, and suffering when it moves on. This cycle is not a distraction or disorder in our lives. It is our lives.
That means that our relationship with our loved ones also continues to grow and change. We have the opportunity to value his or her presence in our lives in new ways as we continue to develop and mature. New insights can emerge about the ways we connected and communicated, what we learned from each other, and the aspects of our loved ones that we've internalized and now embody, continuing to make them available in the world. We can appreciate the beauty of our time together--beautiful because it is fleeting.
Hoko Karnegis is the Interim Practice Director of the Milwaukee Zen Center.