On a recent retreat, the chefs made fresh, hot applesauce, which was just what we needed on a cool morning in the woods. I took only a small portion of applesauce, and I saved it for last because I knew it would be really tasty. My first bite confirmed the sweet and tart deliciousness of the applesauce, and because I had only a few bites worth on my plate, I savored every bite.
On this retreat, we had been discussing the insight of impermanence. The idea is that when we really know that everything around us, including ourselves, is impermanent we will cling less and savor more. And that will bring more joy and less suffering to ourselves and others. During our discussions on impermanence, someone asked whether it was possible that we would grasp more if we really know that this person or thing has a limited existence. Interesting question.
So while I was eating my applesauce, I felt myself really basking in the taste and texture, and yet not clinging to it, not thinking about how and when I would get more on my plate. It was how I felt when I was a girl and would get a small treat– a couple of smarties or a bowl of ice cream. I savored the applesauce in the same way; I wasn’t thinking about how to get more. Why not?
Most of the time, as an adult, when I really like something I think about getting more of it. And by doing that I actually lose the enjoyment of the thing itself. I spend potentially happy time strategizing my next move rather than savoring the person, the treat, or the moment. Watching a beautiful sunset in Florida, I might wonder when I will next get back to the beach. Or when my children are home for a short visit, I might spend time worrying about when I can organize a family vacation. I can lose the pleasure of the moment by being caught in my own craving for more, more, more.
So why are kids better at savoring the moments of joy than adults? I contemplated this between bites of applesauce. And I realized that as kids, we know we aren’t getting any more. For the most part we are powerless over what we get. We aren’t going to get more candy, more ice cream, or another dog. There is no hope in planning to get more because we know in our hearts we won’t get it. But as adults we have the belief that it might be possible to get more of what we want. Maybe I can get back to Florida again, maybe I can finally coordinate a family vacation. Our illusion of control actually contributes to our grasping for more.
“Until we accept and deeply understand in our very being that things change from moment to moment, and never stop even for one instant, only then can we let go. And when we really let go inside, the relief is enormous. Ironically this gives release to a whole new dimension of love.” –Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, from Into the Heart of Life
And in some cases, it is true that we might be able to get more of what we want, but we can’t ever know for sure. Just like we knew as kids, we truly are powerless over most things in life. I may never get back to Florida, and even if I do, there may not be another sunset like this one. And if I persist on getting our family together for a vacation, it might be a disaster. The reason I didn’t crave more applesauce was because, in that moment, I recognized that if I did go back for seconds it wouldn’t make me any happier than I already was.
One of my favorite memories is of my son, about eight years old, eating pie at a silent retreat. The cafeteria was filled with a few hundred people, and completely silent, except for the sound of my son, who with each bite was loud saying, “mmmmmmm.” I am sure he wasn’t thinking about the next piece of pie, because he knew I would not have let him get one. And because he knew he was powerless, he could really delight in that pie.
So what if we tried to live with this attitude that we all had as kids? When we are enjoying a pleasant moment, we can remember our powerlessness over life, the fact that everyone and everything around us is subject to change no matter what we do. This moment will never recur in this same way, like everything else it is impermanent. Trying to hold on to it or recreate it in the future is futile. The only option is to enjoy it to the fullest. Mmmmmm.