This morning when our contractor arrived at our house, it made me cry. And it wasn’t simply the cost of renovation making me sad. It was my son’s move from his old room to a new one that did it.
You wouldn’t think such a small thing would be so triggering. Standing in my son’s room at 7 am this morning, I looked around at all of the stuff that he was letting go — the cowboy rug and cowboy boots, the Goosebumps books, the dried blowfish that hung on his wall, old coin collections, Pokemon cards, soccer trophies, air soft guns (yep, even with a yogi mom), and oh so much more. And he had left all of those semi-precious items in a heap in his old room along with not-so-precious items like soda cans, old papers, and used tissues. Clearly, he was ready to let it all go, even if I wasn’t.
While I picked through the heap, I started to wonder where the little boy went who used to play with these things, the one who would have melted down if I had suggested throwing them away. My son, now 17, doesn’t resemble that boy at all, certainly not physically. So where is that boy? Is he gone, or is he just upstairs in his new room?
One of my teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, uses a raindrop to illustrate this question. His teachings on this subject have helped me immensely, so I offer them to you. But given this winter, I thought I would illustrate with snow instead. Say, for instance, you really liked one of those 8-foot piles of snow that stood outside the yoga studio for several weeks. After the warm weather and rain, you might be wondering, “Where is my dear snow pile? It seems to be gone, and I really miss it.” If we look deeply, we see that the snow pile hasn’t really disappeared, it has simply transformed into other things. When the grass starts growing outside the studio, we will know that some of our snow pile is in that grass. When we look up and see the grey clouds today, we can be sure that some of our snow pile is in those clouds. And just now, while I’m drinking my tea, I recognize some of the snow pile in my cup.
If I ask the question: “When was my snow pile born?” We might say it was born on February 6. But before that day, the snow existed in a different form. And if I ask: “When did my snow pile die?” We might say March 11, but that wouldn’t be exactly right either because the snow pile continues to exist in other forms. While I may still mourn the loss of the form – the snow pile from in front of our building – I know that I can still find our snow pile, if I look for it in different forms.
It’s simply not possible for something to become nothing. You may remember the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed. And even though I know that my son is not the same as he was when he was younger, I also know that he’s not different either. That boy didn’t disappear into nothing. And I still cry because I am just a mom attached to the form of my little boy. But my suffering is lessened when I remember that the little boy continues on in different forms — at a cellular level in the teenage version, in all of the beings whom he has known, and in the form of attitudes, memories, and every one of his actions (karma). That little boy is all over the place.
This truth of continuation can be comforting to us as we go through our lives and encounter loss, from the simpler loss of our children’s childhoods, to the more challenging loss of the people we love. Something can never become nothing. Everything continues, simply in a different form. Sometimes we can even find what we think we have lost, right inside ourselves, in a behavior, a memory, or a bit of wisdom. It doesn’t mean we won’t mourn the loss, but if we remember that we can find our loved one in other places, we might suffer a little less.
So as spring arrives, life is transforming itself before our eyes, and we can watch trees blooming and children growing, and we can practice loosening our grip on form, and look more deeply into the nature of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “no birth, no death.” What form did the spring flowers have before they were flowers? (Hint: April showers bring May flowers.) And what forms will they take after they die? Our yoga practice can be a great place to meditate on this. We can watch our bodies change as we gain strength and flexibility, and also as those same bodies age. We can watch ourselves move into tadasana (mountain pose), and then into trikonasana (triangle pose), and we can ask ourselves if we can still see our tadasana even within our trikonasana. And we can wonder: “Where is my yoga now that class is over?” And if we look around, we can see that what we do in our yoga class continues on long after we have left the studio.
may we hold all forms with lightness,
p.s. Check out Thich Nhat Hanh’s interview with Oprah here