“Whenever we throw something away, whether in the garbage
can, the compost, or the recycling, it can smell terrible. Rotting organic
matter smells especially badly. But it can also become rich compost for
fertilizing the garden. The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two
sides of the same existence. Without one, the other cannot be. Everything
becomes a part of the garbage. After six months, the garbage is transformed
into a rose. When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in
transformation. This becomes that, and that becomes this.
Looking deeply, we can contemplate one thing and see
everything else in it. We are not disturbed by change when we see the
interconnectedness and continuity of all things. It is not that the life of an
individual is permanent, but that life itself continues. When we identify
ourselves with life and go beyond the boundaries of a separate identity, we
shall be able to see the permanence in the impermanent, or the rose in the
Thich Nhat Hanh
In a universe of many things, there is interconnection.
From the many, there is one.
Out of one, there are many.
We may organize our life into categories and feel as though
we exist apart from everything else, but we do not. We may use our language to conceptualize,
categorize, and systematize all of this existence into differences, but
fundamentally, everything is in relation to everything else. There is no true
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu said, “The
nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of the
ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring,
one sees the manifestations.”
Our lives are dependent on the lives of others—not merely on
our fellow human beings, but on the network of plants and trees, on the fish in
the water and the birds in the wind. Without clouds, there would be no rain.
Without the sun, there would be no flowers blooming. Without one, there would
not be the other.
We are not alone.
We depend on the conditions of the world so that we can be. This
world mutually rises and falls. It changes like water that flows through rocks.
We may try to cling to a rock, struggling in our sweat, bleeding and grasping
to security, or we can let go.
In our lives, are we balanced? Our intentions, thoughts and
actions, should harmonize with inner and outer nature. We are in this fleeting,
changing river. We are this fleeting changing river. All things are dualities,
such as light and dark, female and male, life and death. Rather than clinging
to one side or another, which causes great suffering, we must discover what
lies beyond our conceptualizations.
Beyond the categories of right and wrong, we can discover an
As Chaung Tzu said, “The perfect man employs his mind as a
mirror. It grasps nothing; it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.”
We are often blocked and cannot see the world clearly. Our
past experiences, judgements, opinions, reduce us. We then perceive though a
filter of symbols, experiences, preferences, unable to feel this moment. How
can we solve the conflicts of humanity if we cannot move past our own biases,
fears, prejudices, and judgements?
In Zen in the Age of Anxiety, Tim Burkett said that we often
see each other through our past experiences and expectations. Instead of
actually perceiving a person for who they are, we are trapped in thoughts about
that person. Our thoughts, rather than helping us see clearly, conceal who that
person is. Others are placed in certain roles and are judged for who they
appear to be, rather than seen as a changing process. Resentment, anger and
fear, likewise, cloud our minds. Consumed with such states, we can’t honestly
see the goodness in each other.
It is common to look to higher authorities to tell us what
to do. We seek the guru, teacher, self-help book, scientist, politician,
writer, and follow their advice. Meanwhile we deny our own perceptions,
feelings, thoughts, merely following someone who will tell us what to do, how
to think, how to live. Don’t become hypnotized with authority. Many charismatic
people convince us to neglect our own minds. We can get caught up in their
enthusiasm and clever rhetoric. Whenever we deny our own processes, we are not
Instead of relying on ourselves, we memorize the work of
others. In them, as Emerson said, “We recognize our own rejected thoughts; they
come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
Intelligence is not about following others or about indulging
in our own prejudices. It isn’t about adhering to an abstraction of the good
life or finding an absolute answer for everything. Genuine intelligence comes
from not rejecting our own souls. We must never stop questioning, doubting, investigating.
We need to be mindful of life, sensitive to our feelings, thoughts, and
Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun and author, said “To the degree
that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and
fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ” When we are not able to
clearly look within ourselves, when we are not brave enough to confront our own
confusion or pain, when we harden our hearts, we will cause ourselves and
others suffering. We cannot live in this world without a gentle awareness of
who we are. Our ignorance will be our downfall. We need to be mindful of our
own darkness, compassionate toward ourselves and others.
Furthermore, as Chodron said, “feelings like disappointment,
embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of
being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that
we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d
rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with
terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect
teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
There is no absolute method to find the truth of our lives.
We come into self-knowledge through our sensitivity to what changes. Sometimes
we are afraid because, deep inside ourselves, we will find no solid answers to
our pain, our sorrow, our confusion. There is an uncertainty, a groundlessness,
which we are aware of. It is easy to hide, to run, to ignore that uncertain
feeling. Most of our patterns in life stem from our fear of not knowing.
Our thoughts alone are limited. We live with a notion of
Self—conditioned from experiences, memories, books we have read, teachers we
have listened to, commands from our parents, instructions in schools, and so
on. Death threatens our notion of Self—an ending to all our memories, to all
the conditions that make up our permanent, isolated egos—and we tremble before
our own annihilation. We seek security to hide, to not confront our fear. To be
free is to be mindful of our fear and hate, desire and resistance, likes and
dislikes. In silent awareness, we do not have to believe in anything. We do not
have to belong to any group or religion or philosophy. We are not apart from
everything else, floating down the river.
We are the river.
As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “That silence has never been
touched by thought, and only then that for which man has searched from time
immemorial, something sacred, something nameless, supreme, comes. It is only
that mind that is so utterly free from all the travails of life; it is only
such a mind that can find the supreme. That means meditation, which is the
expression of daily activity.”
When mind understands its movement, its thoughts and
feelings, there is no judgement. There is no condemnation. From riding in a bus
down a country road to sitting in a yogic pose, from hiking in the wilderness
to laying to sleep, every moment is a practice of self-awareness. Life then
isn’t merely the abstraction of what is good. It is the sight of our lover’s
face, filled with light over their lips and the shadows in their hair. It is
the unity of the breath with the birds singing, the plane humming over a
mountain top, the leaves curling over grass.
There’s no longer a fragmentation of life, only a