The years – where do they go?
December - short days, darkness, winter solstice. Pull on a woolly hat, draw the curtains. Another year is coming to its end.
We tend to ignore endings. We’re probably thinking more of Christmas and New Year than of 2019 drawing to a close. But we’re ignoring a hidden treasure. All the effort we had to make during the year – getting through work deadlines, projects, smoothing out relationship troubles, working through the budget – all these are drawing to a close. Shouldn’t we take a moment to savour that? If we make an effort to let 2019 go, then we’ll be much more conscious of what to take up again in 2020.
The Buddha asks us to be conscious of endings. In formal practice we endeavour to track the breath to its end, to that moment when the movement vanishes into stillness.
At the most obvious level, there’s nothing to this. It’s just that a movement has stopped. It doesn’t signify anything.
But when we follow the breath closely, detect each sensation, notice them getting fainter and fainter till they disappear, it can be a different matter. That ‘gone-ness’ can appear highly significant, mysterious. We were looking at sensations, now what are we looking at?
It’s the same as looking back over the years and thinking “Where did they all go?”
Nature abhors a vacuum and our tendency is to fill that mysterious emptiness with thoughts, distractions, musings. But if we can still the mind towards around the end of the breath, we find that part of us wants to rest, to explore whatever remains where sensations stopped.
The trouble is that we can’t name it. Even the word ‘absence’ misses the mark. The name attempts to capture its essence, make it known. But in the process, destroys it. The name injects sensations, feelings, thoughts where there were none.
Frustrating! The mind wants to know what it’s dealing with, give it a name. But with practice we notice something within us settling, accepting non-ownership. We learn to allow experience to vanish without casting our mental net of thoughts and words and ideas around that vanishing. The last line from the Vipassana verses starts to make sense: “Truly all conditioned things are transient … once arisen they disappear; their cessation is happiness.”
We can discover peace in endings at other levels in life. Like now, December, the ending of the year. Instead of filling all spare moments with Christmas plans, thinking about the New Year, looking forward to spring, we can savour the dark evenings, bare trees, notice the quietness, see nature at rest. Could we follow her lead, let ourselves rest for a moment, our work for 2019 done?