by Pastor Doug Kings
Everything is change, and nothing at all can be held onto or possessed. This feeling of transience is at the root of the philosophy of poverty that exists in Buddhism. But in Buddhism one would not say so much poverty as one would say simplicity. Not going without, not clinging to things because it’s good for you, but because it is actually the happiest way to live. Because nothing is more terrifying than the state of chronic anxiety which one has if you are subject to the illusion that something or other in life could be held onto and safeguarded, and nothing can. So, the acceptance of everything flowing away is absolutely basic to freedom. – Alan Watts
Last week we suddenly lost our dear dog, Emma. She had been an integral part of our daily lives for over ten years, and then she was gone. We were emotionally devastated and psychologically disoriented.
In the kind responses I received, many spoke of similar experiences in their own lives. Often, they were surprised how long the sadness and disorientation lasted. The loss of a family member, close friend, pet, and even a cherished object can feel like a gut punch, a knife to our heart.
Such events are reminders of how much we live in mental worlds. We carry with us in our minds a map of reality, of normality. Those maps are getting slight adjustments all the time, but sometimes the change is much bigger. We turn the corner to a street we’ve been down dozens of times and are startled to see a vacant lot where we know a building “has always been.” Or we go back to our hometown or neighborhood after many years. “I hardly recognized it,” we say later, and still get a queasy feeling recalling the experience.
With people and pets the changes are harder because they involve behavior and emotional interaction. Whenever I pulled into the garage, Emma would start barking—but not anymore. At 4:30 in the afternoon, Emma would magically appear to stare at me. “It’s supper time, you know,” was the implied message. But not anymore. Routines involving spouses or parents are so embedded in us that it’s common to continue to see and hear someone long after they are gone.
“Everything is change, and nothing at all can be held onto or possessed,” Alan Watts bluntly states above. Watts was a modern-day prophet and understood well how difficult this truth is for us today. Science and technology have given us remarkable control over the world in which we live; so much so that we think of that as the norm. Of course, medicine will fix what’s wrong with me or my loved one. Of course, we will invent our way out of this problem or that.
It’s easy for us to forget what people have always known and what all religions have taught: everything is change. Ironically, it’s modern science that has made us even more aware of that truth. There are no “things” but rather systems of forces, usually in balance but oftentimes not. A “solid” rock is a constant interaction of atomic energy. Change may be slow but is always happening. Here in New Mexico, I walk in sand-bottomed arroyos at 7000 feet that once were on the ocean floor, millions of years ago. And the Hubble and Webb telescopes reveal an everchanging universe billions of years old.
If change is so obvious and inevitable, why does it often upset us so much? The simple answer, I think, is love. We’ve all heard the lament about “looking for love in all the wrong places.” But our real problem is looking for love in too few places, for love is all around us.
In a recent video, spiritual teacher Rupert Spira says:
Love is simply one of the names we give to the to the unity of reality. When we experience love what we’re actually experiencing is the Oneness of reality. And even at the level of ordinary friendship, when we feel love what are we feeling is the collapse of the sense of separation, the collapse of distance. When you’re in love with someone, the distance or difference between you and the other collapses. You feel one with the other. It’s not just a feeling you’re having, you’re actually tasting reality. Reality is showing up in your experience and so love is just the unity of being.
In other words, love is the revelation that we are not separate beings but part of a greater whole. Love expands our awareness to recognize our connection with literally everything. But we experience that oneness in individual, changing forms: this landscape, this community, this dog, this friend, this child, this spouse.
And that’s where the problem is: we mistakenly identify the love we experience with the form. Then we cling to the form, fearful that if the form changes or is lost, love is lost. But Love is eternal and ever-present. Which is why the Bible says simply, God is love. Spira continues:
Love is always love of the One. It’s the only love there is because love Is the absence of separation…. All love for anything is love of God, love of Unity, love of Oneness. But if we allow that love to become exclusively focused, we are really kind of violating a universal principle and sooner or later the universe will make the correction. And it’s very painful when that happens.
Now I think that pain and grief are inevitable. To be human is to be interconnected with the world around us. When some part of that world that we have an intimate connection with is lost, it feels like we have lost some part of ourselves, which we have. And that is going to hurt.
But our mistake is to believe that we have lost love or life itself. We haven’t. Our oneness, our unity with reality remains, only waiting to be experienced through love in some new form we haven’t yet found. God is always hiding in plain sight, waiting to surprise us in a new place, a new form, a new love.
Next week we turn the page on a new year, which we usually view with a mixture of anticipation and dread. It is our way of recognizing the reality of change in our lives and in our world. But time is illusory. Past and future are only ideas in our heads. For reality is only an Eternal Now, everchanging and overflowing with life and love if, as Jesus says, we have eyes to see and ears to here. We live in boundless grace, where the possibilities are endless, and Love awaits us around every corner.
Blessings in your life and ministry.
This week my time as Gloria Dei’s Pastor comes to end. So, this is my last time editing the eNews and my last Reflections column. I have appreciated very much this opportunity to share my thoughts with you and to receive you feedback. As some have asked, I do intend to continue writing blog posts similar to Reflections and will let you know soon how you can receive them. You can also let me know now to include you via email, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you care to write, my new address is 2232 Calle Alvarado, Santa Fe, NM 87505. I wish you all a peaceful and prosperous new year.
Peace, Pastor Doug