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impermanence and present mindfulness

We spend our days preoccupied with endless thoughts of the future and dwellings on the past. When it is the dead of winter, we wish for the warmth of spring. When it is the blazing days of summer, we wish for the cool autumn winds. When we are at a noisy party, we wish to be alone. When we are quietly alone, we wish for the rush of the party. When we are at work, we wish for our shift to be over. When it is a long weekend, we wish for the structure and organized nature of the workweek…  

Pause. 

What if we focused, instead, on ourselves and the present moment? What if we appreciated the ebb and flow of life? 

Library of Congress

Appreciating the ebb and flow of life is called being present-minded. Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi stated that the total involvement with life is what gives people joy. Total involvement with life looks like a person who is concentrated on the here and now—not the future nor the past. A present-minded person can experience joy because they are at peace with their life and hence cultivate more joy. 

I understood what being present-minded looked like while I was wandering the gardens of Shoujousen-jin in Kamakura, Japan while on a school trip. I had an epiphany about the state of my life under the Sri Chinmoy Oneness Peace Tree.  

Liv Robb Manzo

When Iwas visiting, the tree looked hideous. Spring was blooming all around me. Mother Nature was waking up the world with color and sunshine, yet the tree seemed stuck in a perpetual winter. No leaves on its thin, fragile branches. It was bent down like a person hunched over in grief. 

My current state was much like that of the tree. My head was heavy with thoughts of my foreseeable future. I was miserable.  

I was comparing myself to the me of the past and to the me of the future. In 8 short months, I was going to move to the USA:  A place where I would not have the comforting familiarity of home; a place where my friends and family lived a 5-hour plane ride away. 

My misery started to fade away when I overheard one of the teachers on the trip explain the concept of impermanence to her college. Impermanence or mono no aware: the pathos of things.  

This concept says that the most beautiful thing in life is uncertainty and change. This is the principle that has guided the people of Japan to adore Sakura trees. Quickly the Sakura flower blooms. Quickly the Sakura flower withers and flutters to the ground. The cycle of the Sakura flower is a striking example of the pathos of things. Every year, without fail, the Sakura trees bloom for just a moment and then their blossoms dance elegantly away. This metaphor helped guide me on my journey to appreciate the ebb and flow of life. 

There will be good times, the blooming of the Sakura flower, and bad times, the withering of the Sakura flower. I am from Canada and have lived there for most of my life, so I have been through far too many harsh winters. These winters are particularly difficult when you have seasonal depression like me. The dead of winter seems to stretch on forever and the warmth of spring seems like it’ll never come.  

I try my hardest to appreciate the changing seasons. I take it day by day. It will take a while for the snow to melt and Mother Nature to wake up, but it will  happen. The Earth keeps spinning and the clock keeps ticking. I savor the sweet moments winter offers me, like eating warm pastries at the park with my friends as I wait for the embrace of spring. 

I had previously shared my experience in Kamakura as a travel essay for a university course. The teacher’s assistant that graded my work, Dr. R. Martin, remarked that I had fully captured “the joy and wisdom of the Sakura flower.” His most touching words, however, were the final comments he included at the end of my assignment: “May its cycles bring further joy and wisdom and human connection to, and within, you.” 

8 thoughts on “impermanence and present mindfulness”

  1. This is truly amazing! I could picture in my mind the tree as you described it so beautifully…I then took some time to dig deep reflect…on my past and now will focus on my future…I love nature, the outdoors, fresh ocean air, the breeze in hair, and sand in my toes …I love life…Thank you for awakening my feelings…You are on a wonderful journey that is going to take you to some amazing places in your life. You are truly gifted, and loved very much. Hugs!

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  2. What a beautiful piece, Liv!!!
    Simple, elegant, deep and wise.
    I truly loved it!
    I am grateful that u had the chance to read it.
    I’ll keep it and read it many more times.

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  3. Ahh yes, the ennui of life. The Sakura offers her graceful presence to teach us one of the most important lessons of life. What a daily reminder to be, to breathe, to find stillness and joy amidst it all…

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