You Can’t Hold On

Eliza Wing
Feb 26, 2019 · 4 min read

Everything Changes….so why fight against that?

Photo by Sean Patrick Murphy on Unsplash

I have a coffee mug from Blue Hill Maine. It was a wedding present for my first marriage, given to us by family friends.

The husband in that couple was a tall, rangy academic who sailed and drank and made beautiful photos of us all when we were much younger. I look at those photos now and wonder at who we were. To finish his story: He built a plane, flew for some years and fell out of the sky one day.

My short-lived marriage crashed and burned too. That was more than half my life-time ago.

And the lovely cup persists. It is the best shade of blue — a soft gray blue — the horizon across the bay when there’s no wind and no possibility of wind. So, instead of a sail you might consider rowing the dinghy around the cove and see about some mackerel. Fish who rarely come into the cove anymore. We all blame climate change without much proof. So much has changed in the water. The sea urchins who used to crowd up on the rocks, making it perilous to swim and clamber up the side of the shore are all gone. Which means that the starfish are gone too. There’s a squid or two every now and then which appeals to my ten-year old nephew. Actually, he is still nine but I’m giving him a year so I don’t get surprised by time. I use the same trick on myself. I am always six months older so that when I turn 59 in a week I will have gotten used to it. My nephew would have loved the prickly urchins, how they moved their prickly needles around to walk. How those same needles covered the most delicate pincushion shell with a pattern like embroidery or maybe braille.

Photo by Rémi Müller on Unsplash

Well, they are just gone and there’s no use in wishing they weren’t. Except I do. And sometimes, just like an old person reminiscing, I lean over the pier and remember the urchins and the bright starfish.

I remember the stars too. We sailed the coast in August, out to the uninhabited islands. And the night sky covered us like a great glimmering blanket. Every now and then one of the stars would give up and fall out of the sky. The water was alight with phosphorescence — the anchor line, a long glowing trail to the bottom. Now I dream about a vacation to visit the night sky where I can be in the wild dark and lie under the greatness.

Some things you can never get back. Like that shaky marriage, for example. Others are always there, just hidden. The stars.

And still the cup persists.

There is a story about a great Thai forest monk, Ajahn Chah. In his discussions on impermanence, that beautiful condition which suffuses existence with urgency and energy to live he pointed to the example of his cup. He said: it is the perfect shape for my hand. I hold it and I admire it. But when I look at it, it has already shattered. He accepted the cup as there and then not — the fullness of his admiration encompassing its eventual disappearance.

We hold on to so much. Wanting things to stay. And yet. Flowers fade, limbs grow stiff, eyesight blurs. Can we admire the passage of time with wonder rather than with pain? Staring down age in the mirror as if that might make some difference. When all it does is bring a bitter taste in the mouth.

Even the three-hundred-year-old oak who stands guard over the grid of soccer fields where, one year after the next, little ones come and chase balls around. Even that oak drops leaves and limbs. The great trees change in an entirely different rhythm than us but they are never still.

Everything changes. And we can source the beauty in that. Try to hold onto the way you are right now and, well, you do know the end game, right? But we mostly do that — fight against the inevitable. Hope that we can hold it, whatever it is together through the sheer force of will. Until we can’t. The cup breaks.

What if you could see all of this — the end of a season, the face in the mirror, the bird on a wire for what they are — pictures in a time-stop progression.

Photo by joel herzog on Unsplash

Just a snap of your fingers.

The value of recognizing impermanence as the way things are is this: When things are lovely, you can be thunderstruck by them just now. Because just now will pass on by. Better be fully present for it.

And when things are gone to hell — you can reach deep in and remember that all things pass.

There can be a lightness to your being, not unbearable at all.

Eliza Wing

Written by

Insight Meditation teacher, trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). More on or @soarmindfulness

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