When David Nichtern spoke with the IDP earlier this year, he called his lecture It’s The End of The World As We Know It And I Feel Fine. Whether he was borrowing an REM title or just trying to scare us all is a matter of some debate, but I was thinking about both the name of the talk this weekend and a lot of what we talked about. It is the end of the world as we know it, but isn’t it always the end of the world as we know it?
As many of us, myself included, have a whole new buffet table of anxieties to sample from (should I have the poached economy? a large cup of recession? scrambled Presidential candidates on rye?) it’s so easy to sink deep into a perpetual tingle of holy crap. But then I started thinking, Mah Nishtanah? For the non-Judaiac amongst us, that is not Pali or even Sanskrit, it’s Hebrew short-hand for “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The simple answer? It’s not.
So what exactly did David Nicthern mean with his scary lecture title? I think he meant that the world is always ending, every second. That this illusion of continuity, our sense of the consistent muddy thickness of reality, is just a series of endings that we euphemistically call beginnings, or present moments, or here-and-now. And that we can approach each new ending/beginning with the same tools and philosophies and values that got us to that ending/beginning in the first place, or we can engage in some sort of spiritual training (cough-cough-Buddhism) that allows us to approach each new ending/beginning with an ever-so-frustratingly-slightly increased sense of compassion, honesty, and interdependence. In the last year I have chosen to walk the Buddhist plank, occassionally “Successfully”, usually with a great degree of what any objective observation would call “almost”, and I for one am happy to keep failing upward.
Meanwhile, regardless of how “good/bad” I am at my practice, regardless of how much better I get at the things I want to get better at, regardless of how many more times I realize “trying to get better” seems to happen a lot easier when I stop “trying to get better” and just “practice”, regardless of how many new anxieties I do/don’t take on, how many times the world ends/begins, regardless of all of that, I feel fine.