Change, Impermanence, and Living in the Present

It’s one of the best memories from that time in my life.  It was a routine that was simple, refreshing, and renewing.  In the evening, I’d walk Lincoln Road.  Some shops along the way were vacant. Others were newly remodeled.  Passers-by walked dogs; others skated by on roller-blades; a few were on bicycles. But there weren’t many people along the way.

I made my usual stop at the coffee shop called Gertrude’s.   It was named after Gertrude Stein.  I’d enjoy a cold beverage and sometimes a desert at a table on the side walk. I could feel the ocean breeze and breathe the heavy humid air.  It was the end of the day and time to relax.  As I was a regular fixture many evenings at Gertrude’s, people would stop, say hello, and chat a bit.  It was my spot.

I recently read a friend’s memoir.  She wrote of her childhood along this very same Lincoln Road.  She recounted similar warm feelings about the place.  But Gertrude’s wouldn’t have been part of her experience, nor young people on roller blades.  Her time along Lincoln Road was from an era perhaps forty years earlier than my own.  Lincoln Road as I knew it?  That wasn’t her experience.

Today, Lincoln Road is barely recognizable to me.  Gone are Gertrude’s, the card store, the book shop, and the other places I frequented.  They’ve been replaced by chain retailers.  Instead of a casual pace, dog walkers, and roller bladers, it’s now a fashionable neighborhood with different social mores’.

I’m writing about Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.  I lived in the area during the 1990’s.  My memories of evenings at Gertrude’s are from about twenty-five years ago.  Their recollection brings me a sense of warmth and happiness.  At times when I’m tired or stressed, I’d like to go back to those evenings.  I image walking Lincoln Road and the happy-go-lucky feelings I had there.  But it’s just a memory.  Lincoln Road remains, but it’s all changed.  Similarly, my recollection of Lincoln Road is far different from my friend’s childhood memories of the same place.  Both sets of memories are nothing like the Lincoln Road of today.

We know that things change.  Not only do places, styles, and ways of doing things change, we also each change, grow, and evolve.  Places change, are developed, and redeveloped. All this change, well … Buddhists call it impermanence.  Something about the word “impermanence” makes it seem noble to me. But my own experience doesn’t feel particularly noble. Instead, it’s as though something special has been lost.

Change is one of the most difficult aspects of life.  Most people have memories of times of happiness, contentment, or fulfillment.  Of course, like wine, with aging, these memories become richer and have a greater depth of flavor.  Our present situation just doesn’t seem as rich as times past. As we remember past events, it seems as though life was somehow better.  But there’s no going back to what was.  What was is gone and remains as a set of memories.  Those times and experiences are no more.

As for going forward?  We don’t know what to expect from the future.  Will it be good or bad, happy or sad, carefree or stressful?  There are no guarantees.  This makes change, life’s evolution and our growth, difficult for us.  We’d rather not change but stay with what’s comfortable and safe for us.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to savor memories of times and places marked by happiness and other good feelings.  Such memories enrich our lives.  The problem is that when we become so focused on the memories, we fail to live fully in the present.

What made the evening walks along Lincoln Road such a special memory for me was that I was present to what I experienced.  In my memory, I can feel the ocean breeze and the heaviness of the humidity.  I remember people’s faces and even snippets of conversations.  I am able to remember those details because I was present in the moment and experienced it deeply.

Rather than being caught up in memories of the past, we are challenged to live in the present which we are now experiencing.  Recognizing that life is marked by impermanence, we can simply recollect and enjoy our remembrance of past events while living fully in the present. When we live in the present, fully aware, life’s changes aren’t a stumbling block to us.  By being in the moment as it occurs, we draw into us the awareness of life — and of living fully.  The experience of life changes moment to moment and becomes the natural flow of our lives.  We can savor it and find that the present is indeed very good. Perhaps it’s even better than the things we remember because the present is now.  It is alive with possibility.

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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