It is the time of year as international teachers we say goodbye to those we have become connected to within our learning communities. Some people have perhaps become closer than family, and as we move on, it seems natural to grieve for their loss. We have shared food, laughter, tears and stories with these people. They have become woven into the tapestry of our lives- each moment a thread that binds them tight into the picture of what we view as self.
There is certain beauty and tragedy in this process. Like a Puccini opera our end is inevitable and because of our circumstance we are forced into a state of flux as people enter and exit the stage. Some teachers that stay on will become wary of developing friendships with new teachers. I have even heard it muttered in the hallways, “Why bother? They will be gone in a few years.”
International teaching forcibly puts us in a state of impermanence and for that reason I view it, in this context, as a living Sutra. Buddha taught that all phenomena are ever changing and thus impermanent. Impermanence, suffering and non-self are the three 'marks' or basic characteristics of all phenomenal existence. When I struggle with events in my life I cannot change, suffering arises. I grieve for the teachers that have left, or that I have left, and for the students I will never see again. I persist in this struggle.
Habits die hard.
If I didn’t cling to these thoughts and emotions I would be a superhero. Caped and fearless I would live life without guard because I would be afraid to lose nothing and would need nothing to make me happy. But alas, I am a complex social primate, and I cling.
Loss is not unique to international teachers; anyone who has lived away from those they love know what great suffering it is. And when we are preoccupied with our memories, our desires, our fears, we are confined within a prison of self. The realization of impermanence releases us from this self-obsession and enables us to be open to others and find fulfillment.
We suddenly grasp the answer to the question, why bother?
The path is not through self-denial or repression but rather liberation from our mistaken idea of self. Release comes from the realization that what we call self, is in fact ephemeral, a mere phenomenon in constant change. Like all good weavers know, the threads that we thought wove our identity and bound us tightly to others, over time loosen, and sag, and deteriorate. In reality, self is not static. Life is a progressive moment, a successive series of events, joining together to give the impression of one continuous picture.
International teaching creates an exercise in mindfulness. It is a yearly reminder that life is change and impermanence is the undeniable truth of our existence.