We all have periods of pronounced transition in our lives: We suffer a loss of a loved one, abilities or possessions; or we make a change in our residence, work or relationship. How does it feel when you go through something like that? Do you feel suddenly weightless? As if the earth under your feet has disappeared?
When we have big changes in our lives, often nothing seems the way it is supposed to be. We may feel disoriented and we struggle to find solid ground. From a Buddhist perspective, it’s better to simply be present with the weightlessness. Awareness of the transitory nature of life is something to appreciate rather than escape. If you think about it, we are always in a moment of transition. Life is like this. Wherever we think we are, we delude ourselves if we think it is solid and unchanging. This moment is always full of infinite possible directions radiating out. In any moment we can decide to go this way rather than that, or the winds of circumstance change our direction. Most of us tend to trod a solid-seeming path. If a GPS tracked our movements we would make a pattern of thick dark lines from home to work to our regular stores, restaurants, paths and hangouts, with a few faint traces for occasional adventures and bigger trips. There is nothing wrong with this. There’s no virtue in ‘shaking it up’ just to be different. But there is value in noticing that we are making choices all the time. Every moment is a point of transition.
There was an image that came to me many years ago that helps me understand this idea of being present with weightlessness: Imagine a balloon. What we call ‘life’ is inside the balloon. What we call ‘death’ is that moment of transition when the balloon pops or deflates and the air is released into the infinite air. And where are we in all this? Well, many of us are clinging to the edge of the inside of the balloon, trying to stay steady on what we believe to be solid ground, clinging to the surface, afraid of falling off. But some of us let go, for varying periods of time or indefinitely. We find that floating is possible, that the air supports us. We see in multiple directions and can turn freely. We can ride the currents, buffeted by winds that, if we were clinging to the side, would have our face smashed up against that chalky latex. Gag. When we’re clinging to the side so tightly, we might poke a hole in the surface.
When the balloon of life pops or deflates, if we are floating in the balloon we are whooshed out. That may be quite a ride but we know how to fly. We are not gripping to or getting entangled in the detritus of the balloon. We are used to being weightless, so even in this vaster air we feel supported.
I recently heard Buddhist teacher Tempel Smith talk about the importance of living a weightless life, so I was reminded of my balloon metaphor. Much of what we learn in Buddhism ultimately prepares us for the greatest transition point of our life, our own death. But the practice of living in a more mindful way has immediate benefits as well. Recognizing the transitional nature of life and noticing how we are in relationship with transition is useful if we are to live with ease, peace, joy and clarity of understanding. In our meditation practice we are cultivating awareness and compassion. No, life is not always pleasant, transitions can be challenging, and that’s part of our experience too. But if we are not clinging to some false sense of solid ground, feeling betrayed by change itself, we can dance in the air of existence, in a state of awe and wonder, weightless!