When my kids were young, I loved September. The weather would start cooling off, school supplies would be purchased, and it felt like time to start over with a clean slate. This year, however, September feels different. This year, we have two graduating daughters leaving home for college and gap experiences, and one already gone. The flavor of September has changed dramatically for us.
What’s funny about that though, is that during the years when I loved September, I thought that loving September was an integral part of who I was. “I’m someone who loves September.” But here I am in 2009, looking back, and seeing that my September loving may have simply been a passing phase.
When one of my daughters was young, she was petrified of dogs. I didn’t know what to do. So I called my mom, and she told me it was probably a phase. When another daughter started yelling about what a stupid person she was and how much she hated herself, I called my mom. She said it was probably a phase. When my son insisted on wearing only button down vests, jackets, and cowboy boots to nursery school, I was worried that he might not be accepted by the other kids, so I called my mom. She said it was probably a phase.
My mom was no Buddhist, but what she helped me to understand was the truth of impermanence. Everything in life is impermanent, whether it seems so or not, and whether we like it or not. What I thought was a personality trait, loving September, turns out also to be impermanent, a result of conditioning. Certain conditions arose, such as having more time to myself, fresher air, kids excited, and those conditions were pleasant, so I liked September. As conditions have changed, I find myself changing as well.
This leads to another truth that the Buddha taught which was that there is no permanent self either. Just like everything outside of me is impermanent, everything inside of me is impermanent as well. As Pema Chodron likes to say, we have no ground to stand on. Everything is changing.
At first glance, having no ground sounds terrifying, and in some ways it is. I’m terrified of how life will be without my three girls at home, and I also feel terrified when I wonder who I am without the usual likes and dislikes that create this sense of self. Who is Annie if she’s not someone who loves the early fall? Who are we when we drop away our likes, dislikes, and conditioning of our lives? Looking deeply at these questions can be very scary.
But it can also be liberating, if we let it. When I realize how much my likes and dislikes and my “self” have changed over the years, I realize that everything is workable. Even my most challenging characteristics, like impatience, greed, and craving, may also be phases that could change given the right conditions. And what better to do with our lives than practice seeing our conditioning and letting it go?
With practice, we can start to see that these truths point to the fact that every single moment of our lives is full of freshness and newness. At any moment, anything and everything is possible. Maybe tomorrow I will start to love September again. And maybe I won’t. And the beauty of this world is that it will all be a surprise.
I look forward to seeing each of you fresh in September.