“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” -Robert Frost
We see the world changing around us every day, whether it is just through a quick glance of seasons emerging and falling away, or in the height of a child, or the decline of an old neighbor. Life is a testimonial to impermanence. Even as we bear witness to the brevity of most any circumstance, we grieve for its loss.
We all know that death is the conclusion we will all come to, and yet, when it comes we are all a bit surprised that it came so soon. Even the death of old friends who lived long productive lives somehow catches one off guard, or at least leaves the bittersweet taste of letting go on our lips.
I have been practicing the art of letting go of the past with intensity lately. I never truly understood the idea of letting go of the past to make room for the future as a physical reality before. I held onto old packaging, letters, and business cards from years ago, as though their presence made my work history real. In reality it only cluttered the space that I was trying to create the present. It blocked my view to where I was trying to go.
I am no different than most people, unable to respect the truth of impermanence as a basic quality of existence. Through stuff and stacks of photos, memories of times good and bad, I resist the truth that life is a constant act of meeting and parting. I believe that by holding on to things, acting as if they will last forever I can somehow avoid the pain or despair in the letting go. I am trying to learn how to delight in the possibilities that these continuous endings bring. It is remarkable how easy it is to clear out the stuff that no longer serves us can be. Even more enlivening is the space that is left to imagine something new.
There are many ways to deny the reality that things are always changing. My holding onto stuff is only one of millions of variations. Many people resist the changes that occur in their relationships. I remember my son realizing that the falling in love feeling that overtook his whole being was going away. He wept that it was leaving him, that the relationship would never be the same. I tried to explain that this is a natural and organic way that love grows. He didn’t want to hear it. Most of us experience the inevitable changes in our relationships as loss.
Pema Chodron wrote: ““Impermanence is the goodness of reality… it is the essence of everything… it is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.” Seems like a basic tenet of any reasonable approach to living a positivity quest.