Understanding Impermanence as Cycles of Birth, Death & Transition

One inevitable byproduct of the process of spiritual awakening are phases of disorientation.

One way of defining disorientation on the spiritual path is the experience of two contradictory states within consciousness. It’s like when two aspects of the self which normally do not make any contact with each other (compartmentalization) are suddenly free to hang-out together! Some examples:

  • Extreme grief and sadness coupled with a sense of openness and incredible possibility that has not been felt in years.

  • Extreme anger that we have been betrayed coupled with a sense of total relief that the situation has been unmasked.

  • Profound joy, innocence and laughter in the midst of death, loss or other forms of dissolution.

Part of what nonduality means at the level of emotion and human experience is that the meaning of things loses its fixed, rigid quality. To the ego, things are either “this or that,” “good or bad” (remember: the ego is basically forever stuck in adolescence developmentally).

The truth is that every moment of life is loaded with paradoxical meanings and layers! This is what gives life its potent, inexpressible sense of meaning.

When you actually stop walling yourself off from experience, the energy of the feeling body is able to play – able to fully express itself. This creates the sense that grief and joy – at the energetic level – are in the same river of experience. In certain moments, they transition into and out of one another so seamlessly that leaves us with a feeling that they are “not-two” – not fundamentally separate. They are of “one taste.”

One of the main areas of life where we start to have this kind of experience are when things dissolve (or as Pema Chodron says, “when things fall apart”).

The first and most important thing to say about phases of dissolution is that they are natural and necessary. Impermanence gets a very, very bad rap from the ego. We can hear teachings on it for years that evoke (at best) a sense of “tough it out” resignation (a “we wish it wasn’t this way, but it is,” type thing).

Fine. But pretty superficial. We have to look deeper.

Deeper, in this case, is looking at cycles of birth and death. How are things actually renewed (made new)? How are things cleansed? Is “rebirth” some fanciful metaphysical idea, or is it happening all the time in small and large cycles? Where is the person you were ten years ago? Twenty? When you were a “dancer” or a “DJ” or a “heavy drinker” or a “good mom” or a “artist & designer””? What is making contact with that time like? A dream? Mental images with emotions you haven’t felt in a while? Same awareness, different lifetime?

We have died and been reborn so many times already.

In certain cases, the transition between a death and a new phase becomes potent with disorientation, depression, joy, longing, and possibility. These transitions are high octane spiritual incubators!!!!! It is for that reason that dominant culture is frightened of them. The general response is either to “pull people out” with shallow ego-generated solutions or ridicule silence, stillness and non-doing as an unproductive waste.

Don’t fall for it. Look at how things actually work (most people don’t)! Look at how things are born and how they develop!!

There is a lot of waiting, a lot of patience, a lot of space. This is where we tame the ego’s tendency to pin down everything, to fix, to gratify itself, to mask its immature impulsivity as a form of rational security. This is where we use our inquiry to guide the system. To do the little we are being asked to do when our identity and our entire lives have “returned to zero.” To being no one, going nowhere, doing nothing.

In this space of potent, open potential, we wait for the true, authentic impulse to initiate new and expected actions. We gather enormous reserves of energy. We slowly allow a deep, pure unshakable intention to form in the stillness of the heart. This is the way of transitions!

Presence & True NatureCM