While I sat today, I began to feel like meditation belonged in my routine. It could be because, after four days in a row, it’s starting to become a habit. Or it could be that I’ve been living for more than four days under the assumption that I’m going to take time to sit for 30 days straight and so I’ve gotten used to the idea. Either way, it felt good to think that meditation is becoming a normal part of my day.

(That, and I broke my record.  High five!)

Before I started this journey, I decided that I’d like to try out some different meditation techniques. Generally, I practice zazen, or “just sitting”, a practice where one sits and is present with their breath, their body, their mind and the world around them (at least ideally). I like this practice, and in the 10 years that I’ve been studying Buddhism (and occasionally practicing meditation), I’ve found this technique to be both effective and pleasant. However, I’ve heard teachers discuss meditating on sutras (Buddhist texts), gathas (short verses), ideas or even one’s own mental and physical experiences and sensations in order to get a better sense of oneself. One of my favorite teachers, Ken McLeod, has mentioned several times in his podcast, Unfettered Mind, a short set of verses about impermanence that one of his Tibetan teachers was very fond of. He called them The Four Ends:

The end of accumulation is dispersal
The end of building is ruin
The end of meeting is parting
The end of birth is death

McLeod mentioned that some people like to meditate on these verses, and so I thought I’d have a go. I sat, spent about 10 minutes focusing on my breath to calm myself down, and then, at the sound of the chime* I began to consider the four ends.

*I sit for 30 minutes with a chime that sounds every 10 minutes. Thank you, “Equanimity” iPhone app!

As I pondered dispersal as the end of accumulation, I thought about how everything I own will one day either be destroyed or will belong to someone else, and it made me think about how my life shouldn’t revolve around getting more stuff (I’ve actually started “unstuffing” at the prompting of a great blog I sometimes read).

As I pondered ruin as the end of building, I drew my attention to the fact that everything that we make or that is made by others will one day fall apart. One day my house won’t be here. One day my parent’s house–the house where I grew up–will go to pieces. My neighborhood, my county, my state, this country… one day they’ll be no more, or they’ll have changed so dramatically to essentially bear no resemblance to the way they are now, both actually and with regards to the way I perceive them to be. Now, these changes may only occur years and years in future, and likely after I’m dead and gone, but thinking about this End made me appreciate the way things are now.

As I pondered parting as the end of meeting, I realized that every relationship I either have now or will develop will one day end, either due to time and space, a falling out, or the death of one or both of us. I went through the people most dear to me and said to myself “My relationship with ____ will end one day,” and I noticed a tightening in my chest and neck. Obviously the thought of losing the people closest to me causes me to tense up uncomfortably, especially because I know how it feels to lose someone unexpectedly. I will mention here that I’m a believer that relationships CHANGE more than END, because we still relate to memories and the karma of people who leave us, but that change is still inevitable, and big enough to have a profound impact on us. However, despite the tension I felt when thinking about this End, I also realized that it’s important to pay attention to and value the relationships we have, because they can change in a heartbeat.

And as I pondered death as the end of birth, I happened to look up at the (by this time) very short stick of cedar incense burning a few feet in front of me. I thought to myself, “From the second I lit that stick, it started burning out. In a few more minutes it’ll be gone. But it won’t really be gone. It’ll have changed to ash, and that ash will mix with the other sticks I’ve already burned, and the ones that I’ll burn in the future.” Everything is like that. The food I finish eating isn’t “gone”, it’s becoming part of my body and being turned into energy. A tree that falls down in a storm and is used for firewood isn’t “gone”, it’s just changed into something else. And one day, when I die, when my “stick burns out”, I won’t be “gone.” Whatever becomes of my body will become something else, just like my body was created by something else; my parent’s bodies, the food they ate, the food I ate, the air we all breathed. And the more I thought about this, the more I came to appreciate that we’re all made of the same stuff. Biologically, we’re all connected. Distinct in form but not separate from one another. We’re all symptoms of existence–the constant movement and change of matter and energy in the universe. We may convince ourselves through social, racial or religious conventions that we’re different and independent, but it’s not true, and I think that’s why those separations hurt us and tend to do more harm than good.  With all the profound and amazing ways that we’re connected and inter-dependent upon one another, any ideology that seeks to keep us apart is missing the point, and I think that those ideologies should always be regarded with suspicion.

Anyway, I know that I went a bit afield with that fourth End, but I’ll take it, because it’s good to know that we’re all connected. And I’m glad that sitting gave me time to reassure myself of that remarkable truth.