Impermanence


My previous post, “Without Blinking An Eye”, was the last of the parable-related posts for my forthcoming book.  I’m now going to completely digress; I say that because I’m going to share with you a true experience that I had recently, which is related to my day job.  It is extremely rare for me to write about my day job because I work for an organisation, and my views on certain matters are worlds away from the views of the aforementioned organisation.  There is also a requirement for me to maintain a very, very high level of confidentiality, as I’m sure you will understand in due course.

I actually have two jobs with the same organisation.  I have my contracted weekly hours and I also have my “bank” hours, which means that I work on an ad-hoc basis as and when required.  When I’m working bank, it involves me going out into the community with another more experienced professional.  We provide personal care to people who are terminally sick and who have chosen to die at home.  Quite recently I was doing a bank shift and was required to visit a house that is situated in a very affluent part of the UK.  The area attracts the rich and famous and my colleague and I had to visit a property that was tucked away from the rest of what is a quite stunningly beautiful village.  We had to drive around a mile and a half down a track before we came to the old farmhouse.  I will try my best to describe the scene for you.

My colleague told me that there was also some tennis courts, although I’m assuming that they were obscured by the trees as I didn’t see them.  However… when we arrived it was apparent that it had once been a working farm; this was evidenced by the piece of farm machinery that was situated just across the way from the main house.  We entered and found it to be a bit of a maze of stairways and landings.  We were greeted by the live-in carer, who had quite a strong South African accent, and were shown up the stairs, through the maze and into a bedroom.  What I found incredible was all the paintings adorning the walls; they were everywhere and obviously very, very old.  I don’t know who the paintings were of, but they were all of people who were dressed in what I would call Shakespearean-type clothes.  There was also quite a prominence of antique furniture.

The views from the bedroom were incredible and I imagined the beauty of the seasons in all their glory, tantalizing the windows with their magnificence.  As we walked into the room, on the left, there was a mahogany four-poster bed that had obviously been intricately carved by hand and was very old.  There was also various other pieces of old furniture; the four-poster bed, however, was empty.  On the same side of the room as the door, and in juxtaposition to the rest of the room, there had at some stage been a flurry of 1970s-type carpentry, and the entire wall had been converted into a series of built-in cupboards (presumably used as wardrobes); it really did look out of place alongside everything else.  There was also a spattering of old black and white photos from days long gone dotted around the place.  Moments in time captured by the camera lens, showing young, happy and affluent people in all their Englishness.  In spite of the views and the antique furniture the bedroom was very gloomy and had a most unwelcoming feel to it.

Across from the foot of the four-poster was a hospital bed, which had been provided in readiness of its occupant’s pending death.  The hospital bed is the most amazing piece of equipment.  It can be moved, raised and lowered, this way and that, ensuring maximum patient comfort and easy access for healthcare professionals.

In the bed was the tiny, frail figure of an elderly lady who had no more than hours left for this world.  My colleague and I did what we could from a care perspective, endeavouring to be as least disruptive as possible.  It was quite a surreal experience for me.  I was “the witness” to a scene in the play of life, that was being acted out on the stage before me.  It was as though the totality was shouting at me, although not in an aggressive way, but in a way that was saying to me, “now make sure you understand what is being shown to you here.”  It brought home to me the sheer impermanence of this life, this world and all the nonsense that goes with it.  There must have been a truly eye-watering amount of money tied up in that property.  The paintings and the frames alone must have been worth millions of pounds.  It was quite unbelievable really; as I looked down at the almost pathetic figure that lay in the bed, so very weak and barely clinging to life, I thought to myself that the paintings, the antique furniture, the house and the land were completely worthless in the grander scheme of things.  All of those things had once instigated a brief encounter with worldly happiness for the owners.  But worldly happiness, like all other worldly things is subject to relativity and cannot last.

What use was an antique four-poster and 300-400 year-old paintings to the elderly occupant of the bed?  It is important to understand that it is not wrong to enjoy nice “things”.  We do, after all, live in a material world.  It is important however, to realise that these things are all a part of the river that is life; just flowing nonchalantly by, and soon to be nothing more than a distant memory.  Do enjoy nice things when they come your way, but in the understanding that what really matters is not the “nice things” themselves, but the substratum from which they rise up from and ultimately dissolve away into.

 

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This Too Will Pass


I’m off on my travels again in a few days.  As I’ve got a bit of time on my hands before I go, I thought I would try to rattle off a couple more blog posts keeping with the Zen parable trend of late.  This is another one destined to grace my up coming book…

There was once a king who lacked confidence and was constantly worried that an army would one day come and take his kingdom.  He heard that there was a great Zen master in the region and he sent one of his servants to go and bring him to the palace. Sure enough, the master did as the king requested and he accompanied the servant to the palace.  The king said, “I have heard that you are a great Zen master and I want you to make me as wise as you”.  The master said, “that is impossible your majesty, I can’t do that.  However, I would like to help you but it means that I have to return tomorrow”.

The master was true to his word and he duly returned the next day.  He produced a small wooden box from his robe and on giving it to the king said, “what is contained in this box is so important that you must never open it unless you find yourself in dire circumstances with all hope lost”.  The king thought it rather strange, but nonetheless he thanked the master, who went on his way.

Time passed and the king’s greatest fears were realised.  A rival army did indeed attack and take his kingdom, and the king had to flee for his life.  He took to the forest and ran for all he was worth.  As he ran he could hear the sound of the chasing soldiers on their horses.  As the horses gained ground on him he could hear the sound getting steadily louder.  He kept on running, but suddenly; to the king’s horror, he was faced with a ravine, which was as deep as it was wide.  He had nowhere to run, and as he contemplated his fate, he suddenly remembered the small wooden box that the master had given him.  He took it out of his pocket and opened it.  Inside, underneath the lid, was an inscription of four words, which the king read to himself, “this too will pass”.  He stared at the inscription, and trying to understand what it meant, repeated the words in his mind, “this too will pass, this too will pass”.

The king suddenly realised that he had been so engrossed in contemplating the inscription, he hadn’t noticed that the sound of the galloping horses was fading into the distance.  He couldn’t believe it; the chasing soldiers must have taken a wrong fork in the road and were now long gone.  The king lay low for a few days and then traced his tracks back and found an alternative route.  He travelled for many weeks, foraging for food on the way, until he came to a village.  Nobody knew him as a king and the villagers were friendly, inviting him to stay.  He settled down, and as time went by he eventually married and had a couple of children.  He was extremely happy and contented.

One day, after some years had passed, the former king was sorting through some of his belongings.  He came across a small wooden box that looked vaguely familiar.  Out of curiosity he opened it, and underneath the lid he saw the inscription, “this too will pass”.

This parable is a reminder of the impermanent nature of the world.  The only thing that never changes is change itself.  We live in a world that is in a constant state of flux; that is forever moving in cycles.  It is a reminder that we ourselves are not these forms that we call bodies, but rather the substratum on which “the dance of life” is played out.  The parable is not telling us that we should not enjoy the dance, but simply reminding us that we shouldn’t get too attached to the things that we perceive to be “nice”.  What rises up must surely one day dissolve away.  Enjoy the adventure, whilst at the same time understanding that life is like a river constantly flowing towards the ocean and that, “this too will pass”.