During the years of my life where I set myself adrift from organized religion, I began to enjoy reading the sacred stories of many different faith traditions. Being pretty high on the introvert scale, I’ve always been drawn to contemplative practices and Buddhist thought. I can empty my mind and open my heart with great delight. But, I always tripped up on the notion of “impermanence.” It was more than my very educated, socialized, Western mind could take: the idea that I would voluntarily wish to let go of the very nature of what was so important to me, right down to my identity.
On any given day, I have so many reasons and ways to cling to everything: people citing my work, reading my blog, listening to my lectures, archiving my emails. Not only am I socialized into the notion that my thoughts and ideas must be pertpetuated, but my workplace rewards me for it. More publications, citations, professional notoriety. I’m not suggesting there is something inherently wrong with any of that. I’m just acknowledging that the idea of impermanence is both foreign…and perhaps terrifying…to someone very steeped in the Western academic tradition.
So, I find it more than a bit ironic that now that Fall is upon us and I’m steeped both in my academic work and in seminary, I’m thinking about impermanence again.
About a year ago now, I had a very vivid dream. In the dream, I had just arrived in an airport with plenty of time to catch my flight. In fact, I had so much time that I stopped to browse in a bookstore. I set down the bag I was carrying so that I could read. All of a sudden, I glanced at my watch and realized my flight was about to take off. I ran out of the store and to the gate, just as the door was about to close. The flight attendant held out her hand to take my ticket, and it was at that moment that I realized that I had left my bags, my ticket, and my identification in the store. She nodded at me knowingly and waved me through, but I panicked and told her that I had to go back for my identification. In the dream, a thousand things were swirling in my mind: if I got on the plane and needed to disembark, no one would know who I was; if I left to claim my identification, I might miss my plane altogether; if I could just get to my identification I could just abandon the bags and all the replaceable “stuff.” So, I told her I was just going to get my identification and forget the bags, just hold my seat for two minutes. I took off running, found the store and snatched my wallet and ID, abondoning my bags. I rushed back through the airport to the gate, breathlessly holding out my identification as proof of who I was. The flight attendant was still there, patiently waiting. I showed it to her and she shrugged and said, “I told you I knew who you were.” I was both baffled and amazed, “The plane is still here!” I exclaimed. She looked at me with both kindness and the patience one shows to a naive child. “Of course it is,” she said, “it’s your plane.”
That dream has been a powerful metaphor for me ever since. It’s helped me as I explored the timing of pursuing a new vocation, and of my fears of everything falling apart if I didn’t do absolutely. everything. right. now. Many days, the mantra of “it’s your plane…” has been enough to ground me and realign myself with the journey. I’ve considered that dream a gift to my calmness and sanity.
I was thinking about that dream again today. I wondered for the first time what would have happened if I had forgone the jog back to find my identification and instead, just stepped aboard. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the absence of that proof of identity before. Now, I wondered, would it really have made any difference to anyone except me? Perhaps I was the one who needed proof of who I was. To the flight attendant, the plane and I were all one. My identity was both inseparable, and impermanent.
There is something profound in realizing you are known so well that you and your life are indistinguishable from each other. When I am moving through my life with deepest authenticity, I have no need of explaining who I am or what my intentions are. My acts of living speak more loudly than words, or a name. I have come to realize that the less I cling to the need to prove or explain, the more deeply and authentically I can live.
Maybe this explains why my blogs are less frequent than they once were. I still love to write and curate things on the web. And when inspired, I do both. Lately, I find myself engaging in the very impermanent activity of curating a virtual daily office with my seminary cohort which I complete…and then subsequently erase and replace…every day. Some days, it’s like a stick figure drawing of the basic rubrics of common prayer in the Anglican tradition. Other days, it’s more akin to a full blown mandala with pictures and music and perfectly selected prayers. And every day, no matter what, the slate is wiped clean as our prayers are released. I have come to realize that there is something about this process that is feeding me far more than an archive. I have also realized that ours prayers source themselves in Divine Presence, and return to that source. No archive needed. In the impermanence of prayer there is the deepest of peace.
In that spirit, it’s time to send out these thoughts to whomever and wherever they may go.
Enjoy the ride. It’s your plane….
Thank you Sarah. You have the uncanny ability of writing just what I need to read, and this morning was one of those occasions. Impermanence and identity and “keeping it real” while letting also learning to “let it go” are things I contemplate daily. I love the light you spread through being just who you are.
Thank you, Leslie. Its a lifelong journey, to be sure. The irony (and the lesson for me) is that when I live simply and authetically, the light spreads where it needs to without my having to control it. More likely, because I am NOT controlling it! Thanks for brightening my morning with your kind words 🙂