Often I am asked a question like this:
I'm having a tough time, and I'm suffering. What can I do? Could you suggest an exercise, a meditation, a practice?
Sometimes I jokingly answer to simply take a time machine, go back a year from now, and start practicing a grounding meditation daily.
But of course, it is impossible to go back in time, so the reason I give this answer is to make a point. When things break bad, when the hard times are here, it's too late. Our mind, and possibly our body, are suffering, and in this confused state it is very difficult to find the conditions to sit down and practice.
Meditation doesn't work like that. It takes time to produce a significant change within a person. So, therefore, we cannot expect it to magically fix our problems if we only remember it when we are in trouble.
This seems to be a very common misunderstanding, and it is totally understandable: we live in an era that suggests that anything can be quick. Headache? Take this little pill. You want a nice book? Buy it online, and tomorrow it will be at your doorstep.
So, what can we do to shift our perspective? Is there something that can help us understand at a deep level that we need to prioritise our practice, in order to be able to cope with the hardships of life?
My advice is to think about impermanence and death. All. The. Time.
Impermanence is the fact that nothing lasts forever. Things change, people change, situations, relationships, and so on. Change is the only constant of our life.
Many people are mistaken into thinking that impermanence and death are reasons to be sad, and they prefer not to think about them. In fact, in our society we go to great lengths to cast them aside, in a corner. I know people in their fifties who have never seen anyone die (unless it was in a Rambo movie!). And how many men and women are trying to stop time with anti-ageing products and plastic surgery? We simply don't like death. And we don't like impermanence either.
But impermanence is a universal truth, which we cannot escape. And death is part of life. They come together, as one. As soon as there is life, there is also death, and vice versa. Our body is the proof of that. The moment we're born, the clock starts ticking, and we know one day we're gonna go. But also, in each moment, thousands of the cells that make up my own body are dying, and thousands are spawn to life to replace them. With life comes death, and with death comes life. My body in never the same. It is changing, dying and being reborn, all the time.
This is a bit tricky to grasp. It is something that cannot be understood solely with our rational mind. However, even just thinking about impermanence and death will, at some point, produce a shift in our life.
If I am conscious that the hug I'm giving to the woman I love might be the last one, maybe I'm gonna squeeze her for a few more seconds. Most importantly, I'm gonna listen. To her heartbeat, her breath, her warmth. I'm gonna be present to this moment, and savour it, for as long as it lasts.
If I know that a friend needs my help, I'm gonna help him now, not tomorrow, because tomorrow might not come for me, or for my friend.
If I know I'm gonna die, if I know tomorrow my body might not work as well as it does today, I'm not gonna spend all my free time in front of the tv. Maybe I am gonna pick up the phone and tell my father I love him. Maybe I will choose to be calm, because the words I would speak in anger might be the last ones I utter to a person, a friend, someone I love. Maybe I will sit down and practice Reiki.
When we are truly conscious that our time is limited, we automatically develop the strong desire to make the most out of it, and our priorities change. So there is a chance that we might prioritise practice over other activities. And this choice will pay off at some point. Because, if we practice every day, when things break bad we will be better prepared to face whatever has come our way.
And that's why I'm writing this post. Because it seems there is a virus that has come our way.