Learning About Possession and Permanence (or more specifically, the lack thereof).
Personal Challenge 13 of 20
I recently decided to copy my mom and start incorporating a 5-minute tai-chi routine into my day (thanks mom). I am sure that I'm doing to movements wrong, but it's fun and there is a component of connecting mind and body which is pretty cool.
While I was committing to my daily practice this morning I noticed a theme that has been coming up not only in the YouTube videos I've started following, but in my life in general. It is the theme of possession and permanence (or more accurately, the lack of either).
Have you seen the Disney version of Pocahontas from the 90's? It was my second favorite movie as a kid (Lion King was my first). There is a song in the movie that has been popping into my head lately. I don't know all the words but the lines that have been popping up seem significant in light of this theme. The verse I keep hearing goes like this:
"You think you own whatever land you land on.
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim.
But I know every rock and tree and creature
has a heart, has a spirit, has a name..."
It is probably one of my all time favorite songs because of the message it has (and because it is a beautiful song too).
Now with those lyrics in mind, going back to the idea of tai-chi and possession. Here is what got my brain going today:
Yesterday during the tai chi video the movements included 'scooping up leaves' and 'throwing them away'. Today they included 'cradling the moon' and 'throwing it away' and while 'throwing away the moon' today I thought jeez, what a jerk to just throw the moon away.
Of course in the next motion you are holding it again and then it occurred to me that you aren't throwing it away to get rid of it; you are throwing it away as an act of setting it free. (side note: obviously you aren't actually doing any of these things but speaking in analogy...). I also realized that I'd had a similar thought yesterday and have been thinking of things the same line frequently lately.
I am going to try not to ramble too long about all of the times something has triggered this type of thought, but bare (is it bare or bear?) with me through one more example before I get to the point.
There was a YouTube video I saw once about a monk who went out to the beach in the mornings during low tide and made these beautiful, intricate mandalas in the sand. These beautiful forms of art were on You Tube because some pedestrians had noticed them during a walk a started recording them. This is significant because the monk had been doing this for months (or years) and didn't record them himself. Hours after he made them (maybe minutes after) the tide would come in and sweep them away.
I think they interviewed the monk (I don't remember all the details) but the idea was basically that he was not trying to create permanence but to simply create and enjoy beauty in the moment rather than to hold on to what wasn't meant to last.
I had two simultaneous reactions to this message: 1. It was such an honest beautiful lesson we could all learn from 2. How could you be okay wasting so much time creating something so intricate, knowing that it will be gone soon and that chances are no one would even see it during its short existence. Why didn't he at least have someone photograph it so it could last forever?
I saw this video years ago but the tension between the two thoughts has continued to come up periodically since.
I think only now--after repeated instances of this same idea unfolding in my life-- am I starting to grasp (on a mental level) the significance.
Here is what I've got so far (and I know there is much more that I still have to learn):
Life is not permanent. Everything in existence (including each of us) is always changing. We cannot possess what does not last (at some point we will stop possessing it, so we don't actually have full ownership). At best we can borrow or hold on to some of the things that cross our path. If everything (at least on this plane of existence) is temporary and borrowed then timing becomes essential in the sense that we are given (or look for or take) what we need at the moment that we need it and are meant (I believe) to hold on to it for as long as we need it and/ or until someone else needs it. In short, there will (almost) always be a time to let go.
So here is my thought (and it is just a thought-- not based on research, not set in stone, not fact):
What would happen if, instead of thinking of the world in terms of "mines" and "yours" we thought of it as a kind of library? What if we stopped spending so much time and energy trying to "own" things or trying to make them "last"?
What would happen if, instead we took in the beauty of the moment, absorbed what we could of it into our inner beings to make ourselves more whole and then let it go so that it also could develop and maybe be found and used by someone else?
It's like breathing, really. We depend on breath for life, but if we tried to hold onto it for too long we would die. The whole act of breathing is an act of sharing. You take in the air as you need it, absorb the oxygen, and then release it so that the plants can take it in, absorb the carbon dioxide and release it again to be taken in by someone else. I know this metaphor is used a lot in a number of belief systems and I've heard it over and over again, but it is only now actually making sense to me.
So, what if life is about timing and sharing? What would happen if we dropped the idea that we need to possess (skill, money, security, people, resources) and started to use and release, use and release, instead? Maybe instead of killing ourselves and each other fighting for air we could all just enjoy it and share it and the act of sharing (in this metaphor if we include sharing it with the environment) would actually generate a better quality of existence for everyone.
I think that what I am starting to learn is that there is no shame in taking what is given to you (and/or what you need), but you have to take it in knowing that you are not meant to keep it forever. You get to take it and use it for now and then you have to let it go. Again this isn't a new philosophy--It's just a philosophy I've been trying to understand for a long time and I feel like I'm finally starting to make progress with actually learning.
So going back to the monk on the beach: the point is not for him to create art in order to possess fame or to leave a permanent record of his existence. The point is to create because the act of creating is a beautiful experience. It doesn't matter if any other person saw it because it was not meant for them (though it was freely given to anyone who might come across it). It was a moment of time he could take for himself to engage in an activity that was filled with life, love, and beauty, and that he did not need to share but was willing to share if the opportunity arose.
The act of creating is a gift. The act of seeing is also a gift, but you don't need to have both occur for either one to be meaningful.
Maybe the reason this has been so hard for me to understand is because the idea of possession and permanence gives false sense of security.
If I put in all this work I should get some thing (fame, money, etc) out of it because then I'll feel like there is something I can hold on to and I'll be safe. In reality, what you get out of it is the moment of engagement in the activity itself. That is enough. Each moment is independent and interconnected. I am happy when I draw. I am happy when I play soccer. I don't need to hold on to my drawings (or money or reputation) to enjoy making them. I don't need to win trophies to enjoy playing sports.
Yes in the current society we live in having money in exchange for my art would be very helpful for living, but regardless of whether anyone pays me or not the act of creation is full of joy. That joy makes up a portion of my life and that portion of my life is both temporary and eternal and accepting that is where the security really comes from. (Side Note: I'm thinking of writing a follow up blog to discuss all the arguments I hear coming to my mind about how overly-idealistic and unrealistic this way of thinking is and explaining why that argument is actually missing the point.)
Tomorrow I might be homeless and starving (it would be unlikely but it is possible) but with just sand or stone I could still create and find moments of joy in the creation. Tomorrow I could be rich and secure and then die suddenly and would that really be any better? Or worse, tomorrow I could be rich and secure and lock myself into a need to work tirelessly at something I hated and spend years in misery only to die at an old age, surrounded by the security that could never keep me safe.
Of course these are extreme examples for the sake of making a point. I think that there needs to be balance in between the two and I think that there will almost always be balance whether we want it or not because things are rarely only one way or another. The point is.. I think I'm starting to get it:
In tai-chi you have to throw away the moon so that you can recreate the joy of gathering it back.
Holding it doesn't bring happiness, strength, or growth; the process of recapturing it, admiring it, and letting it go again does.
In Colors of the Wind your stay on any piece of land will always be temporary. You can't own it. You are in constant movement and so is it. Every step is a moment of contact with a new piece of ground and then releasing that contact once again. Life, moment, growth, experience... these are the true lessons and experiences we are here for and they are only created by a pattern of taking in and letting go.
That is a pattern in life. We should consume and we should also give back. We should hold on and let go. We need to breath in and out. We need to fight and surrender. It's all a movement both literally and figuratively between opposing forces. Personally, at this point in time I don't believe in the dualistic perspective that you need one thing to create an opposite (maybe my mind will change later), but I do believe that it is in the tension of opposing forces that some of the most amazingly, magical moments take place.
That's what I'm learning right now at least.
I'm sorry if this was long and not super clear. Its one of those things where I feel I am just starting to get it but not able to fully express it all the way yet. I am excited though. I hope that you also find excitement and joy in your day.
Thanks for reading.