Lessons from a washing machine

by Simon Goland, February 17, 2011

Today’s Reflection is about the impermanence of life.

My washing machine started misbehaving. Strange and loud banging noises, spin cycle not working, and everything remains thoroughly wet. Though still clean.

Nothing is permanent, apparently, which led me to contemplate this idea further. It also brought memories of a vipassana meditation retreat, years ago, where I spent 10 days contemplating the same thing. Anicca, or impermanence, is how Buddha called it. Things come, and things go. What goes up, must come down, and “what must rise, must fall,” to paraphrase a song line from a long time ago. Deep Purple, I think. Though I don’t know about diamonds…

The master says: “My dear fellow, I have to tell you something that you perhaps don’t know. I have been thinking about how to make this news less difficult to hear – how to paint it in brighter colours, add to it promises of Paradise, visions of the Absolute, provide esoteric explanations – but they do not apply. Take a deep breath, and prepare yourself. I have to be blunt, and I assure you, I am absolutely certain of what I’m telling you. It is an infallible prediction, without any doubt whatsoever. It’s the following: you are going to die. It may be tomorrow or fifty years from now, but – sooner or later – you are going to die. Even if you would rather not. Even if you have other plans. Think carefully about what you are going to do today. And tomorrow. And with the rest of your life.”

The plants in my apartment grow. Yet, some also die. Regardless of my best efforts to the contrary.

The students and clients that I work with, eventually move on, leaving me with a fulfilling sense of making a difference, and also with the sadness and emptiness of completion of a mutually enriched and transformative journey.

Tobi will not live forever. OK, this one is harder to digest.

I will not remain at the same level of fitness or flexibility with my body, though the efforts and the desire are definitely alive and (mostly) present.

Not all friends will remain in my life forever. Not all have. I love getting to know the new ones, and building our connections as time goes by. Yet, I also miss some of the ones from the past, and on an occasion wonder about them and their lives.

My eyes will never see clearly, day or night, far into the distance. Or close by, for that matter. I think I have accepted this one, and the contact lenses and glasses are a testimony to it.

My favourite colourful, vibrant, and funky socks will eventually have more holes than substance to them, and I will not be able to find an exact replacement. Similar pair, and perhaps just as funky, yes. But not quite the same.

I will not always look and experience love, intimacy, and sex in quite the same way. Overall, it might be a good thing, indicating on some growth and maturity I might be going through. Yet, the vibrancy and passion of my younger years has somewhat faded into memories by now. The depth of the experiences increased.

Every traveling adventure brings joy and excitement of a new discovery, of people, places, and myself. Yet, the sense of the excitement slowly subsides with passing of time, and I enjoy coming back home, to the familiar and the comfortable, being enriched by the journey.

The fascination with a new “toy,” be it a new gadget or a “thing” is also temporary. Some last longer than others, like a Pentax camera that has been serving me loyally for over 12 years, or a backpack that has seen the world. Yet, the initial excitement of newness disappears one day, quietly and unnoticeably, into simply being of service and use. Perhaps this is what the advertisers wanted to begin with.

Some books will forever remain in my head and heart, silently calling me from their shelves to have a visit, reconnect, and spend some time together. Other books, despite being favourite in the past, have faded into oblivion. Same with music.

I love my work, whether it is with individual clients, education and facilitation, or the larger scope organizational development stuff. This part of my life has been getting better and better every year over the past few years, yet I have no idea what could change tomorrow. I just trust that something else will emerge, should it all disappear – or should my focus shift. It did happen before.

“The only real question is not one of winning or losing, but of experiencing life with an ever-increasing depth.” – David Whyte

I suspect I too will not live forever. At least not in this current form.