“During every moment of our lives, something is ending and something else is beginning.”
– Pema Chödrön
Don’t Resist the Flow
I don’t like good things to end. And I don’t like bad things to begin.
But such is life.
That’s one of the points of Pema Chödrön’s newest book, How We Live Is How We Die.
I appreciate Ani Pema’s gentle encouragement to consistently release my grip on living and dying. Although she presents from a Buddhist viewpoint, it’s also a life lesson we learn from Jesus in the Christian tradition of living crucified with Christ. We die daily. We are renewed daily.
Pema Chödrön writes:
“The end of one experience is the beginning of the next experience, which quickly comes to its own end, leading to a new beginning. It’s like a river continuously flowing. Usually, we resist this flow by trying to solidify our experience in one way or another. We try to find something, anything, to hold on to. The instruction here is to relax and let go.”
When we hold too tightly to an experience, an emotion, a season, etc., we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh said often, “It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
Things change. Constantly.
Impermanence Is Good News
Pema Chödrön reminds us that impermanence never takes a break. And that we can be thankful for that.
“There is never a moment when we’re not in transition—and believe it or not this is good news.“
Why is impermanence good news? One reason is because it trains us to appreciate this moment, this happening, this process. By practicing ongoing awareness of change, Pema Chödrön says:
“We can develop our ability to notice the gaps, the pauses, the open space between any two situations. We can start to get the feeling of being in a life that continually begins and ends.”
As we learn to handle the everyday, smaller changes, we are practicing how to handle the bigger changes still to come.
“We don’t have to wait for enormous transitions to force us into reckoning with groundlessness. We can begin right away to notice the transitory nature of each day and each hour.”
Recognizing the smaller deaths prepares us for the larger deaths.
Content with Change
Developing a contented adaptation to an ever-changing environment helps us more fully understand the title of this book, How We Live Is How We Die.
“How we relate to things falling apart right now foreshadows how we’ll relate to things falling apart when we die. …How we live is how we die.”
These are insights I love from this book.
However, there are also things I don’t understand in this book. From my Christian perspective, some of the Buddhist teachings on death are foreign to me, as is the vocabulary that Pema Chödrön uses to explain them.
But as with any book, I take the teachings that are helpful and that ring true to me, regardless of the source, and leave the rest behind.
Overall I do recommend this book for the thoughtful guidance that Pema Chödrön offers on living a more meaningful life in view of the constancy of death.
“Opening to death will help you open to life. Death is not just something that happens at the end of our life. Death happens every moment.”
Whether I like it or not, I want to make peace with daily death in my daily life.
My thanks to NetGalley and Shambhala
Publications for the review copy of this book
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