Precious Moments

Whatever your current age or state of health, you have probably experienced moments when life feels exceedingly ephemeral, as if it could disappear in a split second. This is raw truth. We are here on Earth as human beings for a tiny moment in eternity, yet time itself is always relative—sometimes racing and sometimes “stopped.” As our lives move forward and evolve, we experience the various aspects of life and living and come to know both impermanence and loss. In doing so, our hearts may break, yet we grow wiser. And we begin to see beyond time to eternity itself.

When my mother and father were first married and living in Chicago, they went to see a show called Knickerbocker Holiday. In it, one piece of music, “September Song,” particularly touched them, and they carried it through their lives as their “favorite.” Every time someone sang it on TV or radio, they would pause, listen, and look across the room at each other meaningfully. The main lyric was “It’s a long, long while from May to December. But the days grow short when you reach September…. These precious days I’ll spend with you.” I have such a clear memory of this, which I’ve carried with me all my life. The songwriter, and my parents, had tapped into both the sweetness and the poignancy of life.

My parents were married 57 years when my mother passed away; my father died nine years later. I think I came to know why that song held such significance for them as I lived through their aging years and eventual deaths. Now, many years later, as I myself am aging, as well as facing breast cancer, it all takes on new meaning. In my heart, I feel strongly that I will survive this health challenge, yet you can’t live through such an unexpected and intense experience without being changed, without taking a hard look at your own mortality. Of course, my entire life I have been focused on the mystery of eternity and death, feeling both fear and fascination. (Maybe it runs in my family genes!) None of it coincidence, I suppose. This is my soul journey. Before birth, I chose the parents I had for exactly these reasons.

Over the years, my spiritual path has gradually led me to a “peace that passeth understanding” about it all. Particularly in the last few months, I have come to see an extraordinary beauty in eternity and the nature of the universe. Cancer can be both frightening and soulfully expansive. In recent weeks, I have experienced moments of timeless immersion in infinity, primarily in Nature, which defy description. The heart and soul cannot translate what transpires at those times. But you are transformed; the inner “enlightenment” you were born with rises to the surfaces and shines through your being. Fear no longer defines your days and nights; light does. And trust in something greater than the mind’s limited view. Your inner vision expands to encompass a magnificence and grace that spans all time and space.

Does every human soul eventually experience this as an incarnated being on planet Earth? I don’t know for certain. I can only express what I myself am living through. Still, the trust I carry within me whispers that this is the destiny of all human beings: to see the true nature of life and what appears to be mortality. In the calendar of life, the days we are given at first seem long, then short, then eventually become infinite, timeless—and “precious” beyond life, death, and meaning itself.

“You are infinity dancing in impermanence.”—Panache Desai

Poignancy and Gratitude

When you are in your teens and 20s, life seems to extend into the future like an endless expanse of potential experiences. You can’t imagine not having the opportunity to visit places you love again or see friends and family regularly. As you grow older and encounter both loss and change, life takes on a quality of uncertainty, sweetness tinged with sorrow. A favorite uncle or a parent dies, friends move away, you yourself may move multiple times. The tapestry of life is always shifting, and we too shift with the changes. At a certain point, you may realize that the years ahead are possibly fewer than those behind. It may awaken a deep sense of appreciation for every moment you are given. This is how our lives teach us gratitude. Yet now, at this time on the planet, that lesson is coming up in unexpected ways.

We are living through a period of heightened sensitivity to life and death. The global COVID pandemic has made everything seem tenuous at times, transitory. The ancient Buddhist wisdom of “impermanence” is suddenly front and center in our daily lives. Will we get beyond the losses and emptiness, the holes in the infrastructure we took for granted? And what about health and life itself? There is a kind of poignancy in every memory and every present interaction. But there is also—if we are open to it—gratitude.

Toward the end of 2020, my partner Anne and I moved from Florida back to Massachusetts. We had spent two and a half years in Florida, but in considering where we wanted to be in the future, the choice became clear: where we felt most at home. And that would be Massachusetts. COVID intensified those feelings. As the years go by, and as I live through this pandemic, the assumption that I will do things an infinite number of times seems to fall away. I wonder: “Will I ever see that person or place again? Will I have that experience once more?” Every single day becomes extremely precious, never to be taken for granted.

So perhaps all of us now on this planet are being given the gift of treasuring each moment of life and each relationship, wherever we are and whomever we are with. When I wake up on a cold winter’s morning in New England, I can either question leaving the warmth of Florida behind, or I can look out the window at the scarlet sunrise and the wild geese flying overhead and smile in gratitude for another day of life. Timeless moments in which to experience the love of friends/family and the natural beauty in the world around me. Cardinals and chickadees calling. Tree silhouettes with tiny buds on the branches. Bulbs pushing up through the earth as spring approaches. Rebirth is a part of the cycle of life too, and in spite of our losses and tears, there is always a spark of life renewed.

All that we are experiencing now, whatever our age, can be challenging and cause us to dig deep within for inner stamina and courage. But we have those. Our strong hearts embody love. Our souls are a reservoir of peace and wisdom. We are nourished by the connections between us. What if loss is ultimately just change, renewal—the rebirth of our lives and our planet? No matter what is happening, we can feel grateful for the poignantly beautiful blessing of life itself. As Mary Oliver has written:

“I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

No Visible Trace: Vanishing of the Past

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
I seem to be living through a time in which everything previously experienced in my life is falling away. In the midst of these changes, I find myself standing face to face with a truth that has always existed but is now front and center in my consciousness: There is no past. When we have lived an experience, it disappears from this dimension. It may continue in another dimension, but here, now, in the present, it quite literally no longer exists. In our memories, it shape-shifts and eventually fades as well. We are left with this moment, nothing else.

What has brought me to this seemingly stark conclusion, which is actually quite liberating? Well, in the past month (and after I wrote my last blog, “Resignation or Surrender?”), I experienced the definitive “loss” of two homes that I felt great emotional attachment to: one in Illinois, the other in Massachusetts. The first was my childhood home (on five acres in the country), the second, the house I lived in before recently moving (where I had an extensive flower garden). No actual visits took place; this was a long-distance visual vanishing, via photographs and Google maps. But no less shocking.

The people who bought the house where we rented an apartment in Massachusetts quickly began to renovate the interior last fall. Then, this past spring, our neighbor told us of exterior changes: the new owners had ripped out all my carefully planted and lovingly cared for flowers and replaced them with a rather bare, professionally landscaped lawn and a few meager plantings. The photographs she sent were heartbreaking.

Since our move to Florida last year, I have missed my garden most of all. I had spent eleven years partnering with Mother Earth in creating a diverse mixture of flowers and bushes that bloomed at different times of the year. I knew every plant as if they were my own “children,” and I felt that they knew me. I celebrated each leaf and blossom, each visit by a bee, butterfly, or hummingbird. Sometimes I just stood in silent appreciation and love for the beauty all around me. To see all that destroyed was painful to assimilate. Yet, on another level, I knew it to be another sign that that time in Massachusetts was done. I could not go back to the home I once knew.

Over the next few weeks, I realized that I was being given a deeper understanding of life’s greatest wisdom: impermanence. It allowed me to see the impermanent in all parts of life—and to accept it. My spiritual journey had become about learning to let go in an ongoing way so that I could be fully present in the moment. Then God raised the bar even higher.

For some reason, I decided to Google-search for my Illinois hometown and the country road I had lived on. It has been decades since I have been back there, so it took me a while to find the area where my parents had built their home in the shade of a group of old oak trees. I switched to satellite mode and began to slowly trace the route from the turnoff onto our road, now widened.

Then, unexpectedly, I noticed that there was a very large highway where there had only been farmhouses and cornfields. I zoomed in and saw it was an Illinois tollway with on and off ramps and barren landscapes surrounding it. My heart beating, I backtracked to where I could see some houses and land still intact. I located the houses on either side of our home, but there in the middle was nothing but wild abandoned land. No driveway, nothing visible but underbrush and trees. I zoomed closer, and then I saw a bare space where our house should have been. Closer still, and I was able to make out what appeared to be remnants of a basement. That’s all that remained of my childhood home.

I felt a knot in my stomach and sat staring in stunned silence. It didn’t seem real. My memories of that house and of the trees, flowers, orchards, and vegetable gardens my father and mother had planted were vivid and alive. I lived my entire childhood and adolescence there—with a deep connection to nature and to them. Yet this was the current “reality.” Anything else no longer existed. Of course I knew this, but seeing a visual representation was different.

After my parents’ deaths, I had stopped visiting Illinois but always held it in my heart. Christmas carols evoked visual memories of the holidays I shared with them over the years. And the land itself was in my blood; I had run across the fields and climbed every tree. Years later, when I planted a garden in Massachusetts, I felt most at home there because that connection was born in my childhood. Now, every visible trace of any of those gardens had disappeared. My childhood and my recent past had both vanished.

I sensed my physical body slowly processing this and my soul’s presence rising to the fore. I felt a clearing within to match the clearing without. For the first time, I was fully embodying the present moment with a crystal clear understanding that there really is nothing else. Oddly enough, it felt freeing. It was like decluttering my consciousness: dropping Google and opting for Soul. In truth, I hadn’t lost anything. I had gained greater awareness of the simplicity and power of my lifetime upon this Earth. At the deepest level, my soul (and yours) lives within the Great Mystery of impermanence and eternity, each precious moment experienced and then released with love.

“When the house is gone, the space in the house was not different than the space outside the house. When those walls are gone, there’s only one space everywhere. There always was only one space.”—Krishna Das

Life’s Essential Truth: Impermanence

Photograph © 2018 Peggy Kornegger
“Birth and death in every breath…”
—Deva Premal and Miten

Recently, a dear friend told me that he is moving back to California, which he had left two years before for Florida, where we both live now. (This, only a few months after I moved here myself from Massachusetts.) A week later, I received news that a long-time friend in Boston had died of cancer. Hellos and goodbyes fill my life these days. Friends and family passing to and fro in my experience and my memory like vivid but ephemeral spirits. And I myself am moving with the flow of my own life’s journey, loving and letting go again and again.

Through the years, as I live through cycles of beginnings and endings repeatedly, I am discovering that one of the deepest truths in life is impermanence. Everything is born, and everything dies: experiences, thoughts, emotions, flowers, trees, birds, stars—each breath we take and we ourselves. Humans embody impermanence within their very existence here on Earth. We are born and we die, just like everything else we experience within our lifetimes. That can feel like both a curse and a blessing, but it is the basis of our very humanity, our evolution as individual souls.

My own experiences of joy and connection followed by sorrow and seeming loss have over time shown me that it’s all in how you perceive it. And our perceptions are always changing. What remains unchanging is change. Kind of a paradox, but it will guide you to inner peace and acceptance at the deepest level if you allow it to. At least that’s what I am finding. It is what my passage through life has given me, and I am grateful. I am learning, gradually, to let go of attachment to outcomes of any kind. That is freedom; that is how your soul experiences your life.

The idea of impermanence can at first feel frightening, but over the space of a lifetime’s experiences, it begins to feel like the key to all wisdom. Let go of expectations, attachments, plans, wishes, wants, mental machinations and emotional grasping. Let go of everything and just BE in each precious moment, free of everything that holds you to one particular outcome. Experience what is unfolding before you with an open heart and soul. This is what it’s like to live limitless possibility, to “hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour” (William Blake). Many, like Blake, who have traveled this path before us have reached this moment of illumination that takes them beyond one lifetime into the timeless expanse of being, which is soul, which is God. We are here to do the same.

As I live my life, as I grow older year by year, I find that deepening awareness and wisdom rise from my soul like mist in an open field on a summer’s morning. And I see it happening to others all around me. I feel blessed to live at an extraordinary time of collective spiritual expansion and expression, foreseen for millennia. As we come to recognize that we ourselves are God in human form, we realize that we carry divine wisdom within us. When we see the transitory experiences of life as the gifts that they are and receive and release them without attachment, we begin to love each day and everyone in our lives completely and whole-heartedly. We are no longer held back by regret or fear. We are fully present, fully alive. We are living the wisdom of impermanence.