Only Momentary

Last week it snowed where I was. Quite heavily overnight. Perhaps four inches. Some of which accumulated on the trees, dressing them in a way that I find spectacularly beautiful. I felt a certain awe that reminded me of much childhood and young adult snow from my earlier life in Canada. Last week, by nightfall, most of the snow on the trees in the picture above had melted away, kissed by the sun. That beauty wasn’t meant to be permanent, though I suppose the melting away is a kind of beauty too.

Learning about the ways that life experience is momentary is significant for many of us. In its richest ways, this learning is about a non-permanence. Things change. Relationships. Families. Communities. Emotions. Orientations. Because it’s what is meant to happen. We appear as creatures of permanence, individually and in groups. Yet we are creatures changing all of the time, including the change that is regenerating skin cells to render us with “new skin” every 27 days.

I have known some of these times of non-permanence as loss. I have known some of these as change and evolution. I have not known some of these times at all, unaware — like 27 days of regenerated and sloughed skin.

A while back, thinking of such things, I wrote the poem below. I was trying to feel and understand a certain kind of seduction in the “forever” part of things. I was noticing how I wanted to feel the seduction for comfort, yet at the same time, knowing from a deeper place, that life and the contexts in which we live are much more momentary.

Enjoy. And to welcome some reflection on “momentaryness.”


Only Momentary

This place
is only a stopping ground,
attractive for its illusion
of permanence
and stability.

This place
is most lasting
in the awareness
that it is
only momentary.

The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human — Pema Chodron


Thank you Pema Chodron, teacher of my teacher. This excerpt below, and the book that it comes from, are never far from me. Reminding me of balance and beauty and impermanence while standing next to something that is never the same twice.

We keep trying
to get away
from the fundamental ambiguity
of being human,
and we can’t.

We can’t escape it
anymore than we can escape change,
anymore than we can escape death.

It’s your fixed identity that is crumbling.

The real cause of suffering
is not being able
to tolerate uncertainty —
and thinking
that it is perfectly sane,
perfectly normal,
to deny
the fundamental groundlessness
of being human.

Pema Chodron
Living Beautifully With Uncertainty & Change

Death and Taxes

It was United States founding father, Benjamin Franklin, that once spoke what is now an oft-used phrase about impermanence — “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

It was the 5th century BC Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, that spoke another oft-used phrase about change — “the only thing constant is change.”

I’ve been thinking about these two statements a lot lately. Personally, checking my own ability to adapt. With my 19 year-old son, encouraging him in some movements in his life. With my designs for groups convening that I know need to go to a place of deeper learning — “relationship to uncertainty” is a doorway.

Life is uncertain. Inherently. Despite any of our heroic, societal efforts to mask the not-knowns. You can’t get around it. Like death and taxes.

What’s called for in us is the ability to be in change (yes, about now would be good to offer the qualifier, “do as I say, not as I do”). Learning to be with impermanence and a continued change is a life-long practice. No finish line. Never done. Learn some in our teens. Some in our 20s. And 30s. And on. And on.

Learning to be fluid and adaptive is a massively good skill. Doing that from a clear enough sense of who any of us are (that doesn’t change so readily) — that’s gold!

For me, one of those orientations I learned from my grandmothers, is that I’m a learner. There is always learning to do. That statement grounds me to be able to shift into the multiplicity of environments that I learn in. Now I’m learning as a father. Now I’m learning working with educators. Now I’m learning as I offer a workshop. Now I’m learning as I grieve a pending loss of my dog. Now I’m learning as I live in Utah. Now I’m learning as I live in Seattle.

I remain the learner. The place or the topics that I learn in doesn’t remain. My ability most needed is being fluid.

Amidst impermanence. Amidst change.