Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Impermanence in a Scrap of Paper

I am in a bit of a time lag here. I will rewind myself to Saturday because it seems worth mentioning. On Saturday we went to see the monks dismantle their sand mandala. It was a strange and crazy day and so we were late arriving and the gallery was full. We watched from outside the glass doors of the gallery until some folks left and there was space for us inside. I could watch myself feeling dis- appointed that we'd been late and couldn't hear the talk about the meaning of the mandala and the explanation of the ceremony. We had visited the mandala often during it's construction and sat a number of times for the morning chant. We had long been anticipating this event. There we were on the outside looking in. But somehow there was such good energy surrounding the event, so many smiling faces, that it was easy to let go of the disappointment and just watch; to see without hearing, to watch the babes in arms, the little girl standing and twirling a long strand of her mother's hair, the restless grown-up or two that moved back and forth through the crowd.

And finally the monks got out their big sheep skin duster (which amused me) and swept up the mandala, 3 weeks of painstaking, meticulous work swept up like a messy floor or a dusty table (ah I see it now a ktel commercial, if you buy 1 of these mandala sweepers right now, we'll throw in another one absolutely free. Operators are standing by to take your order.)

But in seconds the lama pulled his duster skillfully outward from the centre and the once beautiful detailed patterns and figures were gone, gone, gone. In an instant he had sliced through our cherished ideas that we can, that we should, hold on to things. If we're listening with our eyes the tiny motes of dust remind us that the stories of how we are and how life should be are just that; insubstantial, impermanent clouds of thought we gather around us. The dust of of impermanence, of changeability, mutability floats through the gallery settling invisibly on everyone.

In one moment life takes one form and then shifts to something different the next. One minute we are breathing, the next minute we aren't. One minute we love our partner, the next minute they have angered us or hurt us deeply. One minute our children are tiny and need us, the next they have moved out and have a life of their own. One moment something is filled with beauty, the next moment it is a grey amorphous mass (ah artists you know how this can happen!). This is the truth, yet we resist it with great effort. It scares us, unsettles us. We want to think we can hold on to things, the things we love and cherish, that they are solid and substantial and will be there for us when we think we need them. We spend a lot of time and energy on these holding on projects.

The monks want to remind us that this is not how the world works. They want us to get it at the deepest level, that everything is always in flux, down to the tiniest of particles. And that's okay. It is our wanting to grasp on to the log that is floating downstream that causes us to suffer. We need to learn this everyday in small ways so that when the time comes to really let go and move on from this world, we won't be shocked or surprised, that we will understand it as part of life. Understanding impermanence offers us the opportunity to appreciate the bittersweetness of what is here now. Enjoy. Drink deeply and let go. That is what the particles of sand are whispering to us.

At the end of the ceremony at the gallery, little bags of sand were offered to those who came to view. You can see me in the photo up above, collecting my little grains of greyness in a scrap of paper, from Barry Till, the Curator of Asian Art. I have them at home sitting under my fat orange, happy Buddha in the dining room, reminding me of the wonder and impermanent nature of my world.


  1. Let go of the sand..... Let go of the sand...... Let go of the sand.......

  2. Perhaps that was the monks test. Those of us who took home the sand to hold onto it failed miserably!

  3. Let go of fail, let go of fail...Sorry couldn't help myself....
    Ah, a needed reminder for me just now. Funny how that happens.
    "Enjoy. Drink deeply and let go." I have the enjoy and drink deeply part down...

  4. I found this post strangely and unexpectedly comforting... When *you* write about impermanence it's like I realize that everything I normally resist in life is suddenly okay - because as you so poetically pointed out, it eventually all shifts, changes, even dissipates - inconsequential...

    "If we're listening with our eyes" - beautiful imagery.

    "...the stories of how we are and how life should be are just that - clouds of thought"

    "the particles of sand whisper to us."

    Wow - yes, of course.

    Life whispers to us all the time. How easily I forget to listen! Thank you for the beauty of your writing!

  5. Yes, beautiful post. Thank you.

  6. Beautifully written about impermanence. ThAt must be amazing to watch the sweeping away of the mandala, and your description of watching it in silence seems to have heightened the experience.

  7. "In one moment life takes one form and then shifts to something different the next."

    this is the essence of reality, no? And the gift of living too, I think.


  8. Thanks to you all for the kind comments.

    And yes Leslie, good reminder "let go of fail", so easy to go that way in the blink of an eye! Another one of those stories we tell ourselves, sheesh!

    And as always bows and thanks to you Christine, Marcus and Patricia for your supportive and appreciative comments as we travel this road of awareness and exploration together.

    And great to see you have resurfaced in the blog world Juana! I've been waiting for you to come up on the other side of the world! Glad to see on your blog that Sputnik made the trip safely!

    And yes Laura, I agree, this is the essence of reality. I know you live this daily.