An unfamiliar companion has been hanging around me lately. His name is Death.
Within the last month, I have learned that our sweet old dog, Masala, is dying of liver cancer. I’ve made a new friend, Mitali, who, at age 32, has devoted the past 18 months of her life to serving as caretaker for her father as he battles colon cancer. And another close friend called to tell me that her husband of 20 years, her best friend, had been killed in a tragic accident.
There is a message here about impermanence. While I’ve heard it many times before, somehow every time an unexpected event happens or I receive unwelcome news, I have to learn the lesson all over again. We are not in control of so many things.
When I was going through a divorce eight years ago, I took great comfort from the book When Things Fall Apart, by American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. She reminds us that in spite of all our carefully-laid plans and best efforts, the only aspect of life we can predict with certainty is change. Therefore, rather than fighting against forces larger than ourselves to maintain a semblance of control, we’re best served by surrendering to the reality of impermanence. Accepting that we are truly adrift in a sea of unknown. When we do, we realize that the only place where we truly can, where in fact we must, find grounding is in ourselves. I would add: and in our relationship to the higher power.
It is a powerful — and threatening — message to digest. But the irony is that when we embrace impermanence, when we surrender to God, we don’t become weak; we grow that much stronger.
When I came to accept my life as it is in this very moment, when I learned to find peace, joy and love for myself as I am right now, I knew for the first time who I was and what life is about. I am a peaceful warrior. My purpose on this planet is to help others overcome their self-sabotaging patterns and achieve their loftiest goals. I even have a mantra: “Fear less, love more!” And I have seen with absolute clarity that the point of being here is only, truly, simply, beautifully… to love.
I had done more than overcome the pain of my divorce. The very heartbreak I experienced had cracked me open, exposed my flaws, and readied me to form even deeper and more profound connections with myself and others.
And that’s exactly when I united with the love of my life, Kiran. My soulmate. My creative partner. My inspiration. After six long years of loneliness and personal growth, and not a moment sooner. Shiva the Destroyer had set my old life on fire and burned it to the ground. From the ashes, I had rebuilt on a foundation of trust, love, and radical honesty. Now, God the creator had brought me my greatest gift. True love.
But any of this might — will — disappear again at any moment. An accident. A tragedy. An illness. We know that we all will die someday. Some of us are facing that truth on a moment-by-moment basis. Others are choosing to forget, to push it aside, to pretend like we can outsmart God. I do both, depending on the day.
Buddhism, a well of wisdom from which I have drawn much comfort, preaches non-attachment. You’re not supposed to give weight to your past, your story, your ego, your societal position, or even your friendships. The Dalai Lama himself was taught to view all beings as his mothers, to love every single one of us equally, without giving any special consideration to his real-life blood family.
Well, I’m no Tibetan Buddhist master. While it’s true that beyond having enough clothes, food, and shelter to keep me safe and sound, I could care less about status, wealth, or possessions, I also choose to attach myself to my loved ones. I love them fiercely, like a lioness. And now that it is time to say goodbye to one, my Bodhisattva of a doggie companion, it pains me more deeply than I thought possible. My heart cracked to allow more love in, and when it did, it also opened the gateway to more suffering.
But I am okay with that. In fact, I welcome it.
I am reminded of the words of Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet:
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
So be it. I will carve deeper the sorrows so that my cup of happiness may overflow. I will sob and ache as I let go of my beloveds and hold tight those around me as they grieve their losses, so that one day, we all may cry again with tears of joy.
Meanwhile, I walk by the ocean and watch the waves roll in, exactly as they have done for millions of years. Unperturbed by our human loves and frailty, our strengths and pain.
How comforting, the vast indifference of the sea.
Photos by Kiran Ramchandran, @KIRANCreates on Instagram