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, deaths of dear ones, 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.