Early this week, I was flipping through Yoga Journal and found an article from the magazine’s archives, written by Keith Kachtick, about impermanence. It was written in 2008; in it, Kachtick recalls being on a trip to Miami, shell-shocked by the realization that his marriage was ending. Ambling through South Beach by himself, he stumbled on an exhibition of Tibetan art and culture that featured six Buddhist lamas completing a sand mandala in public.
“[I]t was the first moment of genuine ease I’d had since first learning from my wife that she was considering a divorce,” Kachtick writes. “For months I’d been holding tight to broken promises and spending so much energy wishing things were different that I felt as though I’d forgotten how to breathe.”
Kachtick goes on to talk about the principle of sunyata, often translated from Sanskrit as “emptiness.” It is a fundamental principle of yoga, he says, the suggestion that everything is destined to fall apart and become something else:
Thinking about sunyata helped Kachtick to find some peace as he processed the loss of his marriage:
Kachtick’s words reminded me of a very old blog post, in which I wondered aloud about how to reconcile the idea of aparigraha, or non-grasping, with the urge to love and hold things passionately. A reader commented that she often thinks about this with the image of the Buddha’s hands in her mind, holding lightly. It’s the same idea as Kachtick’s open palm.
I think I’ve become more adept at holding lightly the things I don’t need or want around in my life: perfectionism, rigid goals and objectives, resentment, undigested anger or repressed feelings. But I still tend to cling to the things I want and love, fearing what will happen if and when I let go.
In the last few months especially, I’ve been tasting happiness and connection in ways I haven’t for a long time. I’ve reclaimed parts of myself that have been dormant in recent years, including my capacity for laughter, my openness and desire to give and receive love, my self-assurance. I don’t question why these qualities went quiet for a while; I know that there are other, much more vulnerable parts of my personhood that needed to be given space. But it’s nice to feel as though I’m reintegrating the pieces.
The challenge I’m coming up against is, of course, my tendency to scheme about how I can sustain the happiness that’s growing. The memory of last year’s depression and anxiety is so close, and so vivid; I’m in a very different place now, but a part of me fears that it’s only a matter of time before I revisit that landscape.
I find it helpful to recognize that I’ve put supports into place that will help me through future trying times: steady therapy, a newfound capacity to ask for help, a work-life balance that finally allows me to avoid burnout.
But it’s equally, if not more important to exercise some faith in life, to trust that I’m where I need to be. I’ve never really been able to do this; I’ve always problematized suffering and greeted happiness with equal parts gratitude and fear of loss. Kachtick’s words remind me to embrace, or at least accept what lies in my palm, whether it’s painful or joyous, and be ready to let it pass, knowing that I’ll be lightly holding other things in good time.
I hope the article, which is one of my reads this week, might give you some feelings of contentment or peace, especially as we enter this busy (and sometimes overwhelming) time of year. And I hope you enjoy the recipe links, as always!
I can’t think of an easier or more healthy, all-purpose side than this bowl of spinach and white beans.
How beautiful is Ania’s masala dosa? Any one of the components (wrap, filling, chutney) looks like a keeper.
Shannon’s parsnip fries would be a cool, nontraditional appetizer or finger food for any Thanksgiving gathering! I’m loving the sriracha-spiked dipping sauce.
At this time of year my slow cooker starts getting a lot more use, and I’m bookmarking Jessica’s awesome, hearty, nutritious quinoa enchilada casserole as my next recipe.
An adorably single-serve-sized vegan lentil mushroom loaf!
1. First, Keith Kachtick on how to practice sunyata.
2. I really loved this article on how vaudeville performers are helping hospital patients with dementia.
3. Good information on why it’s difficult for doctors to get the education and information they need about transgender health issues.
4. A pretty fascinating article on how much the benefits of angioplasty are mitigated by the placebo effect.
5. The New York Times reports that “the era of biomedical research on chimpanzees in the United States is effectively over.” As the article makes clear, moving chimps to sanctuaries will take a long time, but there’s been a massive shift in thinking about the ethics of experimentation on these animals, and the detailed coverage alone is, I think, a step forward.
I hope you enjoy the picks this week, and I’ll be back in a couple days with an easy, Thanksgiving-friendly soup recipe for you! Happy Sunday.
This whole business of self-compassion is most definitely a practice, which (for me, anyway) means days that come easily and days that don’t. Yesterday was a difficult day. I forgot something relatively important, which I should have remembered (and had set numerous reminders to myself about), which set off a spiral of anxiety about feeling unproductive, disorganized, etc. This is a typical cycle for me: giving myself a break, often because I’ve gotten sick, and then undoing a lot of the gentleness with…
The first half of this past week flew by, a blur of class and reading and clients and work. The second half screeched to a halt with the arrival of a fall cold and a middle ear infection, which forced me to slow down and spend most of yesterday curled up on my sofa. I was supposed to travel to DC today for my cousin’s baby shower, but, with my first set of midterms coming up this week and more travel on the horizon…
The first time self-soothing was explained to me, it was by a friend who had her hands full taking care of a new baby. Self-soothing, she said, is when a baby develops the capacity to calm his or herself down. It’s seen as being key to uninterrupted nights of sleep for parents, since it allows babies to get back to rest if they should happen to wake up during the night. A little while later, when I was exploring resources on coping with…
When I was a kid, according to my mom, I used to spend hours at a time lying on the floor and staring up at the ceiling. She was the sort of parent who gave me plenty of space to do my own thing, but this habit was so pervasive that she finally asked my pediatrician about it. “She can stare at the ceilings for hours at a time,” she told him. “Should I be worried?” My doctor—an older Greek gentleman whom we…
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What a beautiful bounty of Weekend Reading–I love how you wove the Yoga Journal article and its kernels of wisdom into the frame of your own experience. I just finished the article, which is beautfiully done, and I have to say that the part I liked best and inwardly clapped my hands in delight about is the serendipity with which hungry, despondent, barefoot pilgrim of the author happens to stumble upon the monks making the sand mandala. Yes, these practices help us know impermanence is permanents and all things must pass, but what’s so at the heart of our creative universe is that we can never pin down exactly where and when we will be led into epiphany, beauty, surrender, connection or wonder that will help us through whatever we cling to. It always comes, always and I love how the article is predicated on that.
I look forward, too, to reading about chimpanzees. Loved the simple white beans/greens dish, the dosas, and want to read about the slow cooker quinoa enchiladas too. And cornucopia of good reads from a good dear person!! So happy you are feeling better these days. Much love to you, Gena!! xo
Thank you for this beautiful post, Gena. It really resonated with me.
I don’t know that you can ever really lose the fear of going back into depression after experiencing it. I just stopped taking antidepressants and this is the first time I’ve not been depressed within my memory – I’m really happy about it, but I have a kernel of fear and doubt at the back of my mind at all times. Hopefully it’ll fade with time. I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing better, Gena, and experiencing that lightness. Keep embracing it.