The Impermanence of our Narratives

Photo: Diana Scalera, Windscape, Cape May, NJ 1987

One of the characteristics of our Stay at Home experiences is that they heighten the feeling of impermanence. What is scientific information one day—don’t wear masks—becomes what will save us the next day–wear a mask! One day COVID-19 is a respiratory disease then the next day, blood clots and kidney failure are a more significant danger. 

We also create expectations of what will happen next that are not reliable. When attempting to buy food, I found that the store where we had been buying food no longer included our zip code in their delivery zone. NYC has been quiet, and the air so clean. Our window sills stayed clean of the usual amount of soot, and we were able to see beautiful blue skies. But, today, all that changed. I could hear the roar of cars and motorcycles on the nearby highway, Police helicopters were flying overhead, and seaplanes were landing on the East River. These annoyances were absent for the last eight weeks. It was a calmness not felt in this neighborhood for many decades. And now, the noise and soot have returned in almost full force. 

What is Impermanence?

In Buddhism and other healing traditions, embracing the impermanence of life is what relieves us from suffering. The doctrine asserts that all existence, without exception, is transient and unreliable. By learning to accept that all life is in constant flux, we might not be surprised by change. We learn that, while impermanence might bring grief and sorrow, it can leave space for renewal and love. It also helps us value what we have at the moment because whatever that is, is also impermanent. We are living in a time that is helping us connect to impermanence on a moment to moment basis. We can use this experience to become aware of and strengthen our ability to appreciate the present, process our losses, and anticipate that good might come from impermanence.

Consolability

When I was studying to be a teacher, I learned about the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale that measures, among other things, neonates’ consolability. This assessment is used immediately after birth. A team measures various aspects of the baby’s state of being. In the case of consolability, someone disturbs a sleeping baby and then observes how quickly the baby consoles herself. The faster the newborn returns to a calm state, the more emotionally stable she is assumed to be. I think about that test when I consider living with impermanence. It starts with the concept that our bodies have an instinct to return to a calm state. Wholebody Focusing connects us to the part of us present at birth—the ability to console ourselves.

When Narratives go up in Smoke

On a personal level, I’ve been holding space for a health issue. I had created a complicated narrative that explained everything. Then, one day when I held space for the energy of the narrative, it dissolved into a puff of smoke. What my body let me know was that my story was not only a small part of what was happening but also the narrative was limiting me from being open to a larger truth. My search for the magic bullet that would resolve my health issue in one neat package became useless. This revelation put me on a path to encounter a fuller picture. New insights have emerged. What is happening to me is an amalgam of long-held nameless somethings that are wanting  my attention. Energetically, a larger area of my body is involved than I had connected to before and it includes the space surrounding my body. 

As part of my healing, I am taking a constitutional homeopathic remedy to help deep-seated traumas to emerge. I’ve adapted my chanting process, to begin with sensing the energy of my concerns before I start chanting. I can feel that energy in my hands as I ground myself. 

I have small singing bowls on my desk and ring them whenever I need to connect to “me” again by pausing. It ensures that I do not work non-stop.  The sound of the bowls have a long duration, and I make sure I do not begin something new until the vibrations  have returned to a calm state like that of a newborn.

When new energy or a narrative emerges, I let my hands feel the energy.  Sometimes movements come.  As the vibrations diminish, I remind myself that nothing is permanent, and my body has the capacity to console itself and reconnect to joy.

Challenges Big and Small

After I started writing this post, I got word that my dear friend Martin Blumenkranz, who lived 1,200 miles from me, had passed away. Even though we had not worked together for almost 20 years, we spoke to each other every week for hours. He was my assistant principal at a new, innovative school in Manhattan called High School for Environmental Studies. He hired a team of teachers passionate about improving the environment and gave us space to be our best selves. Since his death, social media has been alive with stories from people around the world who loved him. His leadership and undying belief in the goodness and creativity of humanity touched us all and helped us become the people we are.

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