Monday, October 18, 2010

Maybe Impermanence isn't what You Think

Melody over at This is Me had an interesting post about relationships yesterday. Here are the first two paragraphs:

From time to time I've had patients tell me that everyone who comes into their lives eventually leaves them. Upon discussion, they are usually able to identify at least one person who has consistently been there for them (thereby acknowledging that not everyone leaves them). Still, they feel abandoned and unlovable.

I've given this some thought and have reached the conclusion that it is the rule - and not the exception - for most people who come into our lives to eventually leave. Sometimes there are reasons - someone moves away or you have an argument - and sometimes there really isn't any reason. You simply "lose touch" with one another.

This coming and going has been on my mind a lot lately. There has been plenty of it happening for me over the past few months, more intensely it seems than at many other times in my life. Old friends going. New friends coming. Old girlfriends peeking out again from behind the tress. Others not sure if they are coming or going. A new family member coming. Maybe there will also be one going soon as well. Hard to tell for sure.

On one level, no one stay with you all the way. Whether it's through breakup, growing apart, or death - everyone eventually "goes" from your life. On another level, even the people we are the closest to are coming and going in every moment, eluding our grasp even as we hold them closely. And on still another level, this coming and going of people in our lives is just what we see, feel, and experience as such. It isn't happening in the way we think it is at all.

Like Melody's patients, I sometimes feel abandoned. It's easy in this fleeting world of ours to sometimes feel that you're being left behind by others, tossed away for someone or something else. In fact, you can feel this even when someone or a group of someones is right in the room with you, talking to you and spending time with you. So it's not really about them in some senses. It's about something nagging at you from within, hoping that another person will come and rub a balm all over you.

It's been many years since I felt "unlovable" as some of Melody's patients do, but I remember that one as well. For me, it was always tied with making mistakes, and not being "perfect" whatever that meant at the time.

But even if those of us who feel like we are loved, and lovable, can still get mired in abandonment. The wondering why someone has gone. Or why they have returned to muck around at the edges, but not really to fully come back into your life. It's not easy in a world full of impermanent people, places, and things to be truly ok with all the coming and going that goes on.

So, maybe it's best to let yourself not be ok sometimes. To not try and be stoic, hard-nosed, and faux enlightened about the ways in which you struggle with relationship comings and goings.

Because, think about it, most of the time, it's difficult to know if someone is coming or going for sure. Part of the struggle, much of the struggle perhaps is in wanting to have things defined, finalized, boxed away as past or present. And life just isn't like that. My long dead grandfather still "comes into my life" at times. And I have had a friend for well over a decade who seems to be long gone, even though he pops up in my life from time to time.

Maybe all of this is pointing to the fact that impermanence itself isn't exactly what people tend to think of it.

*Image - Picasso, Girl Before Mirror


Irisha Mooi Almgren said...

I love the Picasso painting. It made me smile in recognition. :-)

As for people coming and going, although fear of abandonment, one of the two basic fears we develop as children, according to Jungian psychology, was shaping pretty much of my pyschological life already as a child, I guess I pretty much early in life learnt that people and relationships were not there to stay. They were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable.

Some would teach me to read in English, others taught me generosity, and others - what mattered to me when I felt those values violated.

thanks for the post, Nathan. It inspired me to look at this old fear of mine and see if I made the decision to mature emotionally. The circumstances has changed since I was a child and the old mechnaism of protection no longer work and - to be honest - are not needed as they used to be.

Unknown said...

hey, beautiful stuff here. I love how you unpack these things and give me things to think about. Yes, you are right, people come and go.... I often feel regret about that... but maybe it's just the way things operate...

kevin said...

Don't forget it's still important to appreciate what you have while you have it.

Was Once said...

Don't you feel that those friends not on the path seem to understand you less and then leave? In talking to one friend who has asked why do I even bother to be friends with those who don't really care or inquire about my spiritual path? I gave it some thought, but knowing that there is no perfect world I let things fall where they fall. But do then I risk my wisdom path, putting it further out of my grasp?

I have a couple of good friends, that although not into Dhamma, are spiritual and so those work well a push me to be even better like any good friend would.

Do you find your old friends unable to relate to your path naturally move out of your sphere?

Nathan said...

"Do you find your old friends unable to relate to your path naturally move out of your sphere?" I think this has been true to some extent. It might be more that how I think and live in the world now just isn't connecting with some of those old friends' ways of being anymore. I have a friend who isn't really religious or spiritual at all, but he has a great interest in life, and how to live it well. He's compassionate, motivated to benefit others and the world around him, and we share a lot of common interests as well. So, I think it's more about worldview and how someone acts in their day to day life, than if they are Buddhist, or spiritual, or whatever.

But it's also true that almost everyone else I'm friends with is on some kind of spiritual path.