I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as a mineral,
And then I died and was reborn as a plant.
I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as a plant,
And then I died and was reborn as an animal.
I lived for hundreds of thousands of years as an animal,
And then I died and was reborn as a human being.
What have I ever lost by dying.
Rumi, as translated by Robert Bly
Not a pitch for reincarnation — but then who am I to pronounce on that one? Rather a reminder of how a compulsion to cling to the status quo informs and directs our lives at so very many turns. What’s the expression — better the devil we know, than the one we don’t. The presumption, I suppose is that, in most cases, change will, at best, be a (scary) unknown; at worst, for the worst. So better to entrench right here. . . as a rock, a tree, or a mole.
I had a conversation this week with a farmer — not a wholly difficult thing to do in Perth County. We happened to be passing fields nearing what ought to be the apex of their growing season; and, with them, talk of the annual ups and downs of crop yields, weather, drought, deluge — good years and bad. He shared a story of a fellow farmer, an emigrant from Europe many years ago, who had prospered in his adopted country; having arrived with next to nothing as a young boy with his parents. Each year of this man’s farming cycle is . . . well, what it is. He is described as applying best practices; then allowing things to unfold. In particular, I was struck by this man’s apparent sangfroid around the possibility of having built and built — only to have it undone by the vagaries of market prices or weather or some other uncontrollable element in the equation that is agriculture. The ever-present risk of returning to his ‘roots’ (as it were) and being penniless once again. My friend characterized him as having a very ‘balanced’ attitude around this possibility: he would simply begin again.
It put me in mind of the villainy wrought by the alternative — that would be remaining attached to what is, fearful and avoiding of the unknown, of change. Two other conversations this week: one that had seen a man dig a progressively deeper financial hole in a (failed) attempt to maintain a standard to which his family had become accustomed — and his equally vain effort to keep it all a secret; and a second, which saw a man stay in a job that was ‘secure’, but soul-destroying, again because the alternative would be seen (and perhaps experienced) as irresponsible, risky, self-indulgent. In both cases, fear-based decisions to maintain the status quo fostered relationship unhappiness, bordering on disaster, anxiety and depression.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Wherever You Go, There You Are, his little book of thoughts on mindfulness practice, talks of ‘letting go’ in very similar terms:
Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything — whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding, to let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. (p. 53)
And one final word on change. Our tendency to see impermanent things as permanent, is, in a mindfulness framework, the very antithesis of a healthy meditative practice. The underlying tenet of such a practice is that change is inevitable and constant. To attempt to artificially hold to stasis, the ongoing state of sameness (no matter how desirable that state might be; or no matter how fearsome the alternative is expected to be) is to work against the universe. One writer, in fact, describes mindfulness as the awareness of change as it unfolds. Not a bad working definition.