Saturday, December 22, 2012

Everything Is Impermanent


“Everything is impermanent” is an often used topic of contemplation in certain spiritual practices. I was thinking about it this morning as I was shredding paper. (I use the shredded paper to line the bird cages.) My mind wandered while I was feeding the paper into the shredder, back to the copious amounts of paper I recycled and shredded when I retired last year.

Amazingly, a lot of that paper was not just junk. Well, at least at one time it was not junk. Class materials and notes that I developed over the years guided my teaching of hundreds of students. Cases, articles, news clippings – all were relevant at one time to whatever I was learning or teaching. Notes and memos about clients from different decades and even countries. Samples of every imaginable sort of contract (I taught contract law and contract drafting.)

All of it, at one time, had been useful. I had put a lot of effort and care into amassing and organizing what was, to me, a treasure trove of information and resources. As I cleaned out my office, I considered keeping much of it just because at one time it had been very important. Much of who I was and how I saw myself for thirty years was in those papers. They represented my career, my expertise, my legacy.

But I didn’t keep any of it. I saw that it had been important only to me, and that it had no future usefulness in my life. Boxes of paper gathering dust in the attic did not constitute a legacy of any significance to anyone. The importance of the papers was impermanent.

Even my own importance was impermanent. I don’t mean my value as a human being. I mean that no matter how successful I was as a professor, within three years after I left, no student would know who I was.  I realized that I was okay with that. Indeed, it seemed quite natural.

Why was I thinking about that today as I was cleaning bird cages? Perhaps because I am in another transition in my life, to an empty nest. Oh, I know about that revolving door that seems so common these days, and who knows what will happen in the future? But this is the first time I’ve lived without at least one of my children in the house since I became a mom almost twenty-six years ago.

My nest has been empty for a week now.  I still forget when I wake up in the morning that I’m in the house by myself.  The house, which seemed so small when the kids were doubled up in bedrooms and we had to eat at the dining room table because we couldn’t all fit in the kitchen nook, now seems cavernous.  There’s not as much food in the refrigerator. The dirty dishes in the sink are...mine.

I’m beginning to clean and reorganize, to claim the house as mine, too. To ease into this next stage of life. I’m still a mom, but not a day to day mom. Things that were important just a short time ago, now aren’t. I feel curious and excited. I like it.

And someday, this will change, too.

Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.  –Paulo Coelho

related posts: As It Is; The Doors of Change

29 comments:

  1. It is nice, the house to yourself. It will be just the right size for each circumstance that comes along.

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    1. Linda, I'm starting to feel at home again. There have been so many changes in this house in twenty years. Christmas Eve I will just have my two sons staying here. That will be a first. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. I hope your home fills up during the holidays. Merry Christmas.

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  3. You have captured that feeling of an empty nest perfectly: it feels thrilling and lonely at the same time. Curiosity and concern come in equal measures.

    Being able to toss all the papers from your past is an important step in establishing the new you: empty nest mom. You will need the space for all the new ideas and creativity that will begin to fill your home again.

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    1. Bob, Well, thankfully, I never brought those papers home--they were in my office at work, file cabinets full of them. But there is definitely lots more space in my home now with two "extra" rooms. We'll see what comes along to fill them up. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. impermanent or changing..for Good. just like a snake leaves behind his worn off skin, and grows up a new one.

    Merry Christmas.
    Take Care :)

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    1. The snake shedding its skin is a good analogy. Thanks for commenting and Merry Christmas.

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  5. We haven't had our kids in our house for quite a few years now... Very peaceful, but I do enjoy when they visit.

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    1. I think it will be like that for me, too. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. I have held on to too many papers and "stuff" from my past jobs and past lives, and I wish I had let things go like you did. You put it well--it was important to only you, and wasn't needed any more.

    Good luck in settling into your changing role of empty nest mom.

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  7. Oh, so you really are a teacher? Wonderful! Well, not to worry, I think there is something lovely headed your way in the new year, and if your nest is empty, your life definitely won't be. Just use that bit of golden silence to listen to your heart, and see where it leads you next. Won't be long! :)

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    1. Jennifer, I'm very excited to see that that lovely something is! Thanks for all your help.

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  8. I definitely agree with the overall point here. It's a great attitude to have, in general!

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    1. Yes, it helps to not get so attached to the things that are no longer useful in our lives. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. It's another one of life's stages. I have one gone- out of state which is tough because I only see him once a year and one still here but works a lot so don't see him as often. It's a strange feeling at first. Hope you will adjust and enjoy the peace.

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    1. Lisa, I'm lucky that all my kids and grandkids are not too far. It might not always be like that, but I'll enjoy having them in the same area as long as they are here. It is a strange feeling at first. I'm still adjusting, but I am enjoying the peace. Thanks for commenting.

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  10. Hugs, Galen. Letting go has so many flavors. While I am far from the empty nest stage, I do remember having to shred boxes of paper from a career I had just left - and I confess to feeling sad about it. The only thing that kept me going on was the fact that the shredded paper was being picked up by a welfare home and the proceeds would go into making a difference in peoples' lives.

    Today, I am not as attached to things as I used to be. I guess I've progressed.

    :-) Love you. Vidya

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    1. Vidya, Yes, that is progress. I feel the same way. There are some things I treasure, but if I lost them, life would go on. Love you back!

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  11. It is a wonderful realization when we acknowledge that life is fluid and the only constraints upon it are the ones we allow. Letting go is essential to continued personal growth and happiness, whether it be old papers that once defined us or our children. Wonderful analogy.

    May your home be filled with joy this Christmas.


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    1. Suzanne, Thanks for commenting. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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  12. Merry Christmas, Galen ;)

    loved the quote and indeed nothing in permanent that we thought would be .... onward! ;)

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    1. Carolyn, Onward indeed! Merry Christmas!

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  13. I've always been very attached to things. I sometimes cry when I think about the dining room table in my basement. That table has been in the family since 1935 when my parents bought the house I was raised in. I know I will have to get rid of it someday. It will not fit in the homes of any of my nephews. A few months ago, I wept when I got rid of my mother's favorite chair. She died in l995 and I kept it until June of this year!

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  14. Merry Christmas, Galen! Cleansing can be done inside or outside and they will effect each other---because they are both essentially the same.

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  15. There is one thing that's permanent and that's our spiritual commitment, whatever that may be.

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