Posts Tagged ‘impermanence’

Back in September of 2010, I hit a milestone of some importance. I lost 40 pounds. It was an amazing time and I was full of hope and joy at getting my weight under control and getting healthy. I’d been working very hard at it and things were new and promising. A few months after that, I was down 60 pounds and felt great. Twice, I had bought new clothes  because I was too skinny for my old ones. For the first time in a long time, I felt like things were under control and I was making progress on having the life I wanted. As often happens in life, it was at this point things got turned upside down when my marriage began to fall apart. It’s been a long and painful two years, but I’ve moved on. However, I have to undo a lot of damage those hard times inflicted on my weight and my health. As my life spiraled out of control, old habits came back and my weight returned to where it was when I started my journey. Actually, I hit 333 pounds (3 over where I was the first time) before I realized I couldn’t live with myself that way any more. So, in July of last year, I began to focus on my health again. I’ve progressed more slowly this time but in eleven months, I’ve gotten back to 290 pounds and once again feel the joy of having lost 40 pounds. Unlike last time, I’m not elated or dizzy from the accomplishment. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done it before, maybe it’s because I’ve been through the worst suffering of my life and am wary of happiness, perhaps it’s because I know I could gain it back if I let my guard down. Whatever the reason, I’m happy for myself but it’s not the same as last time. I’m more aware than ever how impermanent things really are and that’s probably a factor too. While I’m happy I’ve reached this milestone, I’m just not attached to the happiness like I once was. Eventually, the happiness will fade and I’ll be left with a choice about what to do. I can either continue losing weight and being healthy or I can chase after a faded happiness and suffer. This doesn’t mean I’m unhappy—nor does it diminish the importance of my accomplishment—however, my relationship to these feelings of accomplishment has changed.

Whenever we set out to do something hard, there are moments of fear and discouragement. Last November, I wrote 60,000 words of what eventually became a 92,000 word novel. At the beginning of the month, I had no idea if I could do it, and I was scared of failing in the attempt. However, each day I sat down and I wrote. I made the time and did what needed to be done. Now, I’m repeating that task by carefully reading through the novel, changing the things that need to be changed and fixing typos and gramatical problems. Even on days I don’t feel like doing it, I sit down and I edit and I rewrite and I add clarifications or cut extraneous words. I take it one day at a time and slowly and reliably make progress even though I still feel fear or discouragement. The same is true with my weight and my health. I’d been discouraged lately because the first thirty pounds came off quickly but it took me almost six months to lose the next ten. However, instead of attaching to the fear or discouragement, I’ve taken it one day at a time, one step at a time. Each day I choose to do what I need to do that day: I exercise, I eat well, I meditate, I write, I work. All of those days add up and I’m seeing results again.

I have lost 40 pounds and I fully expect to see the scale in the 280’s tomorrow or early next week. This is good. I am happy about this. However, the day will come when I am no longer happy and my only option will be to do what needs to be done that day.

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I went back to the gym today for the first time in much longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve been walking around the city a lot since I moved here a month ago but I felt I needed to set aside some time specifically for exercise on top of the normal walking and climbing of stairs that I’ve been doing. Needless to say (though I will anyway), my legs are so sore I can’t even sit here at my desk comfortably. I just have to keep reminding myself that nothing is permanent even though it may feel like it. The pain, like my extra weight, will eventually go away.

On the up side, according to the scale at the gym, I’m down to 291 so I’ve got that going for me.

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A Zen Proverb

My Zen Center recently posted this on their facebook page.

Once a student went to the Zen Master and said, “My meditation is horrible!! I feel so distracted…. my legs hurt… sometimes I fall asleep. It is just horrible!!”

The teacher replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”

A week later, the student came back to his teacher and said, “My mediation is wonderful!! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive. It is just wonderful!!”

The master replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”


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Heading Home

I’ve been on vacation for the last week. I’ve got a lot to write about but today, I’m heading home. We’ve been enjoying the beauty of Saba, a small island in the Dutch Caribbean. It’s where my wife grew up. We’ve been able to introduce the kids to family they’d never met, seen family we haven’t seen in years and spend a lot of time hiking and swimming and snorkeling and eating well. Today, as we get our bags together and get ready for the flight back to Maine, I’m feeling sadness about leaving and hope about going home. Every day, I’ve tried to go outside and meditate. It’s been an amazing experience to do that down here and I’m really going to miss this view. I’ll just have to learn a new lesson about attachment and impermanence.

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Winter in Maine is hard. That’s all there is to it: it’s hard. We’ve had feet of snow on the ground for months. The days are short and you can regularly tell someone the temperature by using just your fingers.  In the past few days we’ve crept up above freezing and gotten rain instead of snow. The spring thaw has begun.

I was reminded of this today as I got into my car and heard birds that had not sung in our neighborhood for months. I spent a few moments soaking in their songs and looking forward to seeing grass again. It feels like the world is coming alive again.

I feel like I am too. I’ve made it to the gym two days in a row now and I’ve been eating healthier too. It’s so easy to lose track of good habits when you lose your daily routines. That’s exactly what happened to me. I got hurt in January and then injured myself again in February and both of these injuries kept me from exercising. That was the first real blow to my rituals that kept me going forward. Then, I started to deal with depression again. This was an even bigger blow to my motivation. My mood matched the weather: cold, dark and hard.

The batteries on my scale died so I lost the ability to monitor my weight and because of the previously mentioned issues, I wasn’t very motivated to change them. Strike three. I was out of control again and stopped taking care of myself. I let old habits back in and lost my focus on my goals.

Now,  Spring is coming and I am waking up. I’m once again following my routines and watching what I am putting into my body. Today as I was exercising, I was reminded of just how good it feels to work out. I felt a rush of energy and enthusiasm to lose weight again. I think that the change of seasons will be the perfect time to change my habits once again. Here’s to new life, new hope and new resolve.

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As I’ve mentioned here before, I usually weigh myself on two different scales and they are almost ten pounds off from one another. This has caused me some frustration as I try to split the difference between them to get a more accurate picture of where my weight really is. Lately, things seemed to have gotten even worse. My bathroom scale now has me under 260 while my Wii fit tool has constantly had me over 271. This morning I made it a point to pick up the Wii Fit board, blow on the feet a bit to make sure nothing was lodged in the sensors and really do my best to make sure the board was on a level surface. When I got on it today, it said my weight had gone down by 4.4 pounds and I was now under 270. Once again, my scales are both showing me losing weight at about the same rate regardless of what the actual number is. I don’t know if one of the sensors on the Wii balance board was malfunctioning or if there was another issue but a measurement that is more in line with what I am expecting to see is a welcome change. Even though I was not getting discouraged about a lack of any real change it was beginning to make me wonder if I was going to have to make any more drastic changes to keep losing weight.

With the 270 mark now in my rear view mirror, I am in the final quarter of my original weight loss goal. I’m down 61 pounds and have 19 to go. As I continue to live in a way that is as healthy for me and the environment as much as possible, I see the weight loss as a natural side effect of this effort. That’s been one of my goals all along: to change myself so that weight loss is a natural and organic component of, my life. If I were going into this with just the intention of losing weight, I would fail. Attachment to being healthy can be just as bad as being unhealthy. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Being on vacation really allowed me time to just relax and think about things that I normally don’t have time to. There’s something about having a couple of cross country flights to really give you time to think. Plus, there was the time change to get used to: I kept waking up around 4:30 A.M. for the first couple of days and this gave me pleanty of time to sit quietly and think as I waited for the exercise center to open at 6:00.

Attachment is a hard subject to really wrap your mind around. We do it without realizing we do it. Attaching to things, people, ideas, goals, desires, dreams, concepts and aversions are all a part of our mental makeup. We either want to get something or keep something away or we want to be something or control the actions or thoughts of another and in each case, it leads to suffering. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are right view and right action. These two parts really help us to deal with our attachments and to see them for what they are. When I first started to lose weight, getting healthy was my only goal. I wanted to be a different person. I had a lot of misconceptions about who and what I was. I was attached to my old lifestyle and I was attached to an ideal that I could never achieve. It is only as we practice and begin to examine things as they really are and attempt to see their true nature that we begin to see our attachment for what it is. My attachments to my overweight and my attachment to a skinny and fit body that I could never have were making me crazy. When we attach to something, we think of it as a part of us. We define it as our “self” and we have a hard time picturing it any other way. When we say “I” we refer to our mental image of what we are and this includes all of our attachments that we hold on to like so much baggage.

The reality of the situation is that we are not our attachments. We are not the self we think we are most of the time. It takes a lot of introspection to realize this. Letting go of our attachments and assumptions about the nature of reality is no easy task. I’m just getting the smallest glimpse of what that means lately. I’ve been working on this post for almost a week now. I’ve been sick and I’ve been busy and I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of things that have demanded my attention. However, throughout the stress of travel and sickness and busyness and distraction, I have been aware of my relation to these things. I have had an easier time of not attaching to them because I’m learning to apply the right view of them and take the right action in regards to them. So, this is where I find myself: weighing less, feeling better and feeling freer. It’s a nice place to be and I’m enjoying the experience. Now, if I can just keep from getting attached to it…

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Sunday night we had quite a wicked storm blow through. It was a classic New England nor’easter and the rain and wind were amazing to see. Around 11:00, my wife and I heard an enormous cracking sound followed by a crash. We did our best to see what had happened but it was too dark to tell. With the aid of a powerful flashlight, we finally saw what made the noise: one of our beautiful trees had come crashing down in the storm. This tree was probably 50 feet high and thankfully fell away from the house. If it had fallen towards us, our bedroom would have been destroyed and we could easily have been hurt.

At this point, the best course of action was to get the kids downstairs and out of harms way. While we were doing this, I heard another crack and crash that seemed even more ominous than the first. I looked outside just in time to see a big blur in the window. The trees I could barely make out were shaking in a way that was far worse than if it had been caused by the wind alone. I knew we’d lost another tree and I feared it was The Oak. The Oak is an enormous and magnificent tree that stands proudly in our side yard. It’s the one the kids have a rope swing in and that gives shelter and safety to countless birds and squirrels. If The Oak couldn’t stand up to the wind, we were going to have to move to the basement for safety. This was the first time I felt scared of the strength of the storm.

Knowing what I do about what these storms can do to our power, I made it a point to unplug our electronic equipment. That’s how I realized that my worst fears were unjustified. The Oak stood strong, its branches and trunk moving in the wind. That was the good news. The bad news I quickly realized was the top of the tree that sits outside my bedroom window was gone. I could barely make it out lying in the yard. Once again, I was thankful that nothing hit the house when it came down.

In the morning as we assessed the damage we felt both relief and sadness. The second tree to fall was the one we saw each morning as we lay in bed. Now, there was a gap in our view like a missing tooth. This tree broke about halfway up and both of its trunks had snapped. This was our favorite tree and it provided shade and shelter and helped us feel as if we lived in a tree house. Our cats loved to sit in front of our window and watch the birds and squirrels play in it. I used to joke that it was” kitty TV”.  Now, all we have to look at are two broken trunks that will soon come down. It was the saddest part of our day as we realized that we had lost something we loved.

I have written a lot about impermanence here for a number of reason. One, because our desire to cling to things and keep them from changing is a major component in why we suffer. Secondly, it is important to understand how impermanence effects us on a daily basis. The thing that struck me was that while I knew that these trees wouldn’t go on forever, I always assumed that they would outlast me. These were tall trees that had lived a long time and should be around for many years to come. When confronted with their demise, it caught me off guard. These weren’t supposed to go away before me. Trees don’t do that. If only that really were true. Since I’ve been in this house, we’ve lost three trees. Two to the storm the other night and one to a construction crew that felt removing a perfectly innocent little tree and garden on the corner of our yard would somehow help them work on the intersection outside our hose. Personally, I don’t think it served any purpose other than to open up my front yard to more noise and visible cars going by, but what do I know about civil engineering. Nothing is permanent; even mountains wear down and erode. When confronted with the reality of change, we have two choices: we can accept things and move on, or we can fight it and bury our heads in the sand attempt to ignore it. Actually, this is just the illusion of choice since one is an action based on reality and one is just actions spurred on by clinging to a desire that things were not the way they are. These trees are gone. We can plan new ones that someone 50 years from now can enjoy the way we used to enjoy the ones we had. Eventually, those trees will fall too. That’s the way life is. The only constant is change. The only permanent thing is impermanence.

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