No matter how hard we try, we can not wrangle predictability or permanence from the world. Not in any way, shape or form.
I am a 53 year old, white male born in the United States. I am author, an artist and a designer. I come from a divorced family. I have been divorced myself. I am an agnostic. I believe we are spiritual beings. I am skeptical of words, strung together in a row, that presume to define the will of god.
I speak english.
I eat meat.
I have a New York State driver’s license.
I have a seven year old son. He is one of the great loves of my life. His presence in the world pulls at me like a magnet. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I think of him.
That said, I can not know if my relationship with him will last.
I hold the core belief that no matter how hard we try, we can not wrangle predictable permanence from the world. In any way shape or form. We can not barter or trade or beg or demand that the world grant us a consistent version of what we hold dear. And the more we do so, the more the world will sidestep us and give us something new instead.
By virtue of this core belief, I do not seek to insure that my current relationship with my son (a relationship which I hold dear) can somehow be made to stay the way it is now, any more than I might seek to magically stop aging or changing and live forever as I am today. As much as I might want to continue experiencing life with my son when he was six, those days are gone. He’s seven. Another year of his wonderful life has passed.
Although we accept this annual frame for change in those we love, the yearly marking of change, we are less able to acknowledge the change that comes more quickly, in days or even hours, or so rapidly that it outpaces the very beating of our hearts. But change does come, not only over the span of years but in seconds. We can not keep what we hold dear from changing right before our eyes, in ways both minute and sometimes catastrophic.
And so, when I am with my son, I seek to witness in as open-minded a way as possible, how change is flowing through him. This is the only way I can experience him without fear of impeding, denying, or worse yet, rejecting the constant changes manifest in both of us. If I seek to lock in place our current relationship, my son will continue to change while I focus on some nostalgic version of him that remains static. And if I cling to that static version of him for too long, I’ll lose sight of him altogether.
This happens time and time again in our lives. With lovers, spouses, friends, neighbors. co-workers and others. Often the more highly we value someone, the more likely it is we will resist or deny it when they change.
So, I try to see my son changing.
I take this stance in regards to my son even though it stirs fears in me. Fears that creep up on me in the middle of the night. Fears about loss, mostly. That change causes loss, and loss is the deep wrenching end of what is safe and familiar. So there are two parts of me. Even as I have come to understand that people are, in fact, the living embodiment of change, I also fear change. Because change hasn’t been kind to me. Or more specifically, I wasn’t taught to embrace it.
This inability to understand change early in my life is why so much of my worldview has been defined by the narrow frame of “loss.” When I was little, no one taught me to look for, identify, and value change. I was left instead to focus what is lost when change comes.
To this day, I still live with a lot of fear. I mostly feel it in my gut. It is the fear that I will loose what I have. I can banish the fear for a while, if I want to. I can go running. I can have a shot of Tequila. I can visit with friends, gather my history and my community around me. I can talk with my wife Saliha about how I feel and in that conversation, find momentary peace. I can have a water gun battle with my son on a hot summer day. Run after him through the park into the happy growly landscape of childhood. I can write, like I’m doing now, and follow my fears, through the labyrinth of my internal landscape. Using them as a guide to locate the dimly lit little stages where distorted memories continue to play out their decades old melodramas of loss inside me. Sometimes I can even step on to those little stages, stop the play, and say, “Guys, really. Enough of this.”
Part of me is already mourning the loss of things I have in my life right now, and in doing so, stripping me of my joy, impacting the tone of my words and deeds, and in turn, threatening to create some ghastly self-fulfilling prophecy. We have such carefully crafted tricks we use to bring down destruction on our own heads. We do it because we can’t bear waiting for the inevitable pain and failure we know must be coming. And so, we cheat destruction, my choosing the time and place to bring it down on ourselves, sooner. Never imagining that with a little hope and human kindness, it might never have come at all. I have done this over and over in my life. I want to be clear about that. It is with all humility that I seek to tell my story and share my ideas. Absolute humility.
When I was seven, my parents divorced and my father left our home. Events change people. So the warm affectionate man whom I looked up to when I was seven never came back into my life. A different man came back. So, I feel that loss to this day. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where my fear of losing what I love originates. But my father, as he is today, is very much in my life, and we have a love that transcends the losses of my childhood. But my father is also now in his eighties and so, his eventual death threatens to spiral back in at my seven year old self, churning old emotions all over again.
Ruminating on such things is a textbook example of seeking control over events already long past or events yet to happen. Living in the here and now has the power to banish this. After all, no one is gone and no one is dead. I’m working on remembering that. Because mourning the loss of someone who is right in front of you is an abject and cowardly surrender to your fears. Focusing on your regrets is like throwing the gift of life back into the faces of those who love you. “Get over it,” I say to myself. If you see me, please, feel free to say it to me, too. I’ll smile if you do.
The Primacy of Change
During the course of a life, the human soul is filled to overflowing with the events that form the experiential map of its journey; events whose impacts spool out on a thousand levels and in a thousand ways, even in the course of a single day.
We view the world from our personal vantage point, which is neither stationary nor singular in nature. For as external experiences wash over us, our internal self is in a constant state of flux. There are the biological tides, emotional changes, will, desire, our responses to stimulus, pain, loss, joy, the divine, the confluence of memory, actions and emotions. In each passing moment, we are shifted, sometimes against our will, by the very biological and chemical components that our body itself is constructed from.
We are, each and every one of us, the center of the universe. We are conscious. And consciousness is always simultaneous perception and misperception, on every possible level.
Our perception of an event on one day, will be very different if we experience the same event on the following day. Which is itself impossible. No event repeats exactly. Nor can any vantage point be exactly recreated. No person remains the same over the course of even an hour. Our perceptions are full of variability. Our impressions and recollections are shifting from the very moment in which we perceive an event. Reality is fluid. Truth is contextual. Given enough time, facts can simply not remain facts. By whatever measure you choose, the world, and by extension, we ourselves defy concrete definition.
To experience life is to experience change. We see change playing out both within and before us. As children growing, as adults aging, the message of the primacy of change is forced on us; sometimes brutally. We are shown over and over again that a constant flood of internal and external factors will impact how we experience the world. It is in this eternal flux of change that we seek to define ourselves and live out our lives.
The primacy of change can not be challenged and so, in our utterly human way, we attempt to do just that. We avert our gaze, looking away from the chaos in which each and every one of us immersed. We seek to slow the advance of change, hold our position in the flood of impermanence, remain who we are in the face of even catastrophic events. We struggle mightily to control the changes that impact our lives. It is an effort that is understandable and, on many levels, justified and deserving of success.
But no matter how hard we try to create order, the cosmos renders our efforts ineffectual. Our biology is such that our very existence is dependent on super novas that detonated billions of years ago, creating iron and flinging it across galaxies, iron which is an integral part of our bodies and without which we would not exist. Given the maddeningly vast scope of facts like this, how, honestly, can we ever propose to fully grasp, much less control the variables and events impacting our lives? Events from flood, famine, and earthquakes, to small details, like how the dinner table is set are simply not in our control. We can create the illusion of control, but it can be shattered when one fork is out of place.
But… what if exerting control is not really what we’re built to do? Suppose seeking control is actually antithetical to the true nature of being human? If we humans are at the mercy of immense changes happening all around us, perhaps we are also gifted with immense capacities for living in states of change; capacities which we do not grant ourselves permission to access or employ…
This article was written in partnership with Dr. Saliha Bava.
Next: Shape Changing, Change Surfing and Other Party Tricks.
Click here for more of Mark Greene’s GMP articles.