I now live in a part of the world that has volcanoes. Volcanoes! Finally, my fifth-grade geography lessons are being put to use. After a lifetime of terrain gently sculpted by a receding glacier or two, I now marvel at ridges and ranges and buttes and coastal rivers and snowy peaks.
One of those peaks, Mt. St. Helens, erupted when I was a child. I remember it being a frightening time, even though I was thousands of miles away. Now I see its flattened dome nearly every day.
It’s a bit close for comfort if I think about it too long.
And then, less than a month after I moved, an article in the New Yorker claimed that the worst earthquake in US history won’t happen in California, but right here in my new hometown. “The Really Big One” is long overdue according to the article, and I’m squarely in the “doomed” zone.
That’s a disconcerting thought too.
If one studies mindfulness for very long, the subject of impermanence comes up. Much of our suffering – what disappoints or infuriates us – is the simple fact that nothing stays the same. We wish it to be different, but the reality is that the world is always, always changing.
A tool often used to teach this idea is to hold a cup in your hand (especially effective if it’s a beloved mug or precious heirloom), and then say “this is already broken.” Some day, maybe this afternoon or maybe years after you’re dead, this beautiful, treasured object will be shattered to dust.
You can take that knowledge and become fearful and mistrusting, sheltering your possessions (and your heart) from all possible harm. Or, you can channel that knowledge into full, abundant mindfulness, admiring the cup every time you use it. Enjoying what is whole in the moment, even knowing that brokenness is inevitable.
Of course what is true for cups is most certainly true for our bodies, our relationships and more. They, too, are doomed to brokenness, even if we don’t know when or how it will happen.
So I look at these stunning, deadly volcanoes on the horizon, as well as the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate, moving millimeter by millimeter beneath my feet, as exquisite lessons on impermanence. This beautiful corner of the world, with its majestic forests and breathtaking waterfalls and abundant farmland… this too is already broken.
And I choose to savor it today, drinking deeply from what it has to offer, letting it nourish my body and soul before they, too, finally break.
Photo taken by me, while hiking through the Hoyt Arboretum, using an iPhone