Indulging & Impermanence


Photo on 5-3-13 at 6.42 PM

A self-inulgent sorrow selfie. Embarrassing but true*

I used to wrap myself up in nostalgia. Not happy nostalgia, like “Remember when we all wore acid-washed jeans,” but more like… hm, deep grey clouds of melancholy nostalgia. I was secretly proud of my ability to nurse a bittersweet memory. I made regret an art form, sculpting what-ifs in my head into castles of fantasy lives I’d never get to live.

These days, I’m able to see a little more clearly that things pass, and that nothing lasts, and that this is mostly okay. As Buddha suggested, I suffer less as a result.

I was recently listening to a Dharma teaching on this concept of impermanence and was struck by a particular line: “The emotions of the past are gone,” said my teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche.

When I say struck, I mean it felt like I was physically struck- spontaneous tears actually welled up. The emotions, gone? But, but… I LIKED those emotions. Even the sad, sorry-for-myself ones.  I’d spent so much time nursing them, cultivating my garden of self-pity. In an instant I saw clearly that I had been attempting to carry these emotions with me into the present, but that they had already changed. New emotions were there, and some of them might be similar, but nothing was quite the same.

I recently ended a relationship (this is the VERY short version, friends), and at the same time, I reconnected with someone that I loved and lost many years ago. So I’ve had the opportunity to look back and consider, compare, and contrast the similarities and differences between these two loves.

There are many patterns to observe, but one that I see clearly is a tendency to fondly romanticize both the high points and the low points of the relationships. To dwell in them, to turn them over in my memory until I can’t be sure how much  is truth and how much an idealized emotion- one that changed long ago, despite my insistence on dragging it with me like an old battered bag full of crap.

A little indulgence in memory, in past emotion, in lost love, can feel awfully good. But it doesn’t always serve me well. I’m working to turn transform this indulgence into inquiry instead- yes, I think it’s good to appreciate and remember, but I’m also finding that some space around the emotion/memory/whatever can help me to see (and, I hope, release) the patterns that have caused suffering.

The following poem- The Lost Garden by Dana Gioia- speaks to this very phenomena in a much more beautiful way. Enjoy.

The Lost Garden

by Dana Gioia

If ever we see those gardens again,

The summer will be gone—at least our summer.

Some other mockingbird will concertize

Among the mulberries, and other vines

Will climb the high brick wall to disappear.


How many footpaths crossed the old estate—

The gracious acreage of a grander age—

So many trees to kiss or argue under,

And greenery enough for any mood.

What pleasure to be sad in such surroundings.


At least in retrospect. For even sorrow

Seems bearable when studied at a distance,

And if we speak of private suffering,

The pain becomes part of a well-turned tale

Describing someone else who shares our name.


Still, thinking of you, I sometimes play a game.

What if we had walked a different path one day,

Would some small incident have nudged us elsewhere

The way a pebble tossed into a brook

Might change the course a hundred miles downstream?


The trick is making memory a blessing,

To learn by loss the cool subtraction of desire,

Of wanting nothing more than what has been,

To know the past forever lost, yet seeing

Behind the wall a garden still in blossom.

*Please don’t worry, guys. I’m really quite okay, and was even when this photo was taken. 🙂 It was a moment of nostalgic, self-indulgent mental “weather.” It passed and all is well.

27 thoughts on “Indulging & Impermanence

  1. I have reblogged this post. Your commentary, and this beautiful poem, speaks of a relationship I have been in for three years. It is an impossible situation — she has many lovers. Still, she writes to me and I am drawn back in. Meditation, your post and this beautiful poem help me to keep perspective.

    Thank you for your words and the reminder that everything is impermanent. ~ Dennis

  2. Wow. I have to say this has hit a cord with me as well. I recently learned of a word called “hierath”. It means “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past”. It’s really put a perspective on things. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Allie- Wow, that’s a great word. Sometimes I have a sense of “why am I writing these things,” and it’s so great to hear from others that they’re relating. Thank you for taking the time to comment and reminding me that I’m not alone. 🙂

  3. Yes! Sometimes I view it as being attached to my story/my victimhood. In a way, replaying the story feels so familiar and comfortable that I find a backwards sense of security in that “truth” and don’t want to let it go. Like I’m fearfully asking “but who am I if I am not the girl who (fill in the blank)?” I love the comment that the feelings of the past are simply gone. It makes me imagine the bubbles in a glass of champagne- so alive and active when the glass is poured, but eventually they simply disappear and will never come back.

    1. Hi Bekah- love to hear from you, and I know I am behind on reading your posts, need to pop over there sometime soon! I understand completely. Another teacher that I love relates these emotions/thoughts to shaving cream- puffy and big, but nothing but air in their essence, easily diffused.

      I also relate to the… “Who am I if I’m not…” line of inquiry. If I’m not depressed, if I’m not the victim of this love gone awry, then who am I indeed? Uncomfortable sometimes. Give yourself a hug for me. Laura

      1. Love the shaving cream analogy. (Definitely stealing/bringing that one to sacramento!)

        And no stress on getting behind- it’s pretty much impossible for me to keep up with all the blogs I wish i could follow. My last post was kind of a doozy, but aside from that you haven’t missed all that much! 🙂

  4. At Dennis’ urging, I came for a visit. I love how your frame your reflections and the words from the poem. I found myself trying to highlight favorite passages, yet the numbers become too great. I think I landed on “the trick is to make every memory a blessing.” Some memories make us stronger and show us what kinds of people and situations to avoid in the future. I match this up with your first paragraph that spoke to me in your “ability to nurse a bittersweet memory.” Well said. If you don’t mind, I think I will stop by again. All the best, BTG

    1. Hi, BTG- Thank you so much for stopping by- glad to have you and to hear your thoughts! I know just what you mean- this poem is so rich. I also love the line you referenced, but am haunted more by the NEXT one… “to learn by loss the cool subtraction of desire.” Wow! Lovely to hear from you and meet you. -Laura

  5. I love you posting. It describes exactly how the ego attaches itself just as easily to negative emotions as to positive emotions. What a beautiful poem!

  6. Despite some of the sadness from our past, it’s a good thing if the garden evolves to our present. Thanx for sharing your poem with us and have a wonderful day.

  7. I so appreciate this piece. Thank you for gifting us with this part of your journey. I’ve shared it via reblogging so others can see this.

  8. Great post! I really enjoyed it. I think I tend to replay certain instances in my mind that will paralyze me for a second. I’ll be struck by one and literally stop what I’m doing to think about that thing; usually something that I remember as being embarrassing for myself.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by- I can relate very much to your experience! Sometimes I find that when that embarrassing memory comes up, I’ll physically (involuntarily, even) move to try to “shake” it! 🙂

  9. WoW! And I have nursed some of those memories that only had thorns…what the heck!! I love this post and that last stanza is what the doctor ordered. Thank you for sharing this…now I want to read the longer version of the break up…blessings, Oliana x

  10. Reblogged this on Gorgeous and commented:
    Love the poem and I have also come to the same conclusion that ‘wallowing’ in past sorrow is only opening up the scab and not conducive to my well being

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