the 5th grade of impermanence

June 3rd, 2010

She’s going to be in 5th grade.

We’re sitting in the school auditorium waiting for a troupe of tweens to begin the spring dance revue. The kids shuffling onto the stage are already beyond their parents’ belief – sprouted up and out, gangly, tangly – and long since beyond their parents’ grasp. My husband whispers to no one in particular: She’s going to be in 5th grade.

These are the kinds of things he says at these occasions. I can hear the echoes: She’s going to be one, two, four, five, eight, ten! As before, I do not respond to what does not need to be said.

He’s having an enlightenment experience. Enlightenment, Dogen Zenji taught, begins with the recognition of impermanence, the moment we perceive the utter and astonishing transience of life, the moment we see through the constructed illusion that anything stays put.

Alas, all conditioned things are impermanent;
It is their nature to come into being and then cease to be.

Truth thus springs from what we see. Spiritual practice starts with a sigh. Enough sighs and you might one day get serious about it.

Do not pass over from the light to the darkness by ignoring practice and pursuing other things. Take care of this essential instrument of the Buddha Way. Your body is like a dewdrop on the morning grass, your life as brief as a flash of lightning.

It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself. We practice to change the way we live, to face the facts of the matter. Because, have you heard? Did you notice? Do you know? Have you seen?

She’s going to be in 5th grade.


Offered in deep gratitude to the full house of beginners who will join me this Sunday at the Hazy Moon Zen Center for their first meditation retreat. You might want to read more about the beginning of my own practice, and the transformative power of impermanence, in this interview.

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  1. My twins graduated from preschool last night. In about an hour, we head to kindergarten orientation. I can’t be at the meditation retreat but I’m practicing, as change and impermanence are so clear, almost as they’ve never been before to me.

    Comment by J, Connecticut — June 3, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  2. “It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself.”

    You continue to uplift me with your words, truly I’m amazed by how much your insight has changed me. Thank you.

    Comment by Christine LaRocque — June 3, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  3. Awww…sweet post. I’m going through this with my son gearing up for kindergarten. He’s going to be in kindergarten…. Can’t we just pause and stay here for a while? Nope. Thanks for your beautiful words.
    Eco Mama

    Comment by Eco Mama — June 3, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

  4. Tomorrow is my last day as a parent volunteer In a preschool. Such a pretty gossamer veil, this bittersweet recognition of impermanence.

    Comment by Chris — June 3, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

  5. She got her degree. She’s moving in with her boyfriend. She’s getting married.

    Comment by Tricia — June 4, 2010 @ 1:11 am

  6. Beautiful Karen!!!
    Just this morning I noticed how, in the beaming sunlight, my 2-year old “suddenly” turned into a little boy. I think so often of your words “I will give it the sun”.

    Comment by Rose — June 4, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  7. Thank you for this.

    Comment by Kelli — June 4, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

  8. Yes, impermanence. It’s all around us, and inside ourselves. We better get on with the program, don’t we? 🙂

    Comment by Marguerite Manteau-Rao — June 4, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

  9. Such beautiful words, Karen. They catch me in my throat as I visit my memories. Thank you:-)

    Comment by Mary Petro — June 4, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

  10. Your words are filled with such grace and poetry, as usual. 🙂 From one mother of a 5th grader -to-be to another: Cheers, to growing up, letting go, to impermanence! *clink*

    Comment by Emme — June 5, 2010 @ 1:25 am

  11. Calm – that is what your words give me.

    Comment by Swirly — June 7, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

  12. My “little people” are all in their forties and fifties but I revisit those days often accompanied by love, smiles, tears and wondering.

    This is LIFE ….. your words seem always to strike my heart chords, Karen:)

    Comment by Mary P. — August 31, 2011 @ 11:28 am

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