Einstein was right about the constantly shifting dance of energy and matter.  Everything in life is changing, all of the time.  Glaciers become rain, rain becomes the juice in your tomato and the grain of the wooden table on which it sits.

But we would not do well to think about this all of the time, this constant flux of states and forms.  If we did, we’d find nowhere firm to stand in our lives.  It might be useful, though, to remember this when the ground is already shifting and we find ourselves trying to stay upright.

I was reminded of Einstein’s principle as I drove home today from early meditation at the Zen Center.  Particles of what had once been trees and shrubs and grasses beautifying the hills around Los Angeles now hang heavy in the Denver air.  Freed by raging wildfires,  they loosely assemble as a veil across the morning sun, tinting the light a pale tangerine.  There’s no recourse now, for capturing them and reassembling them into what they once had been.  The energy is in flux, moving into the next state and for a while will just be a vague haze distorting the color of the sun.

This is what we all find so discomfiting in the course of change:  that in-between state when we’re neither this nor that.  Resisting change is an energy-conserving mechanism.  We’re programmed for habit, especially for those which are pleasant, familiar, comfortable.  I’ve coached many people who find themselves in this uncomfortable state:  executives whose positions have been restructured along with the organization, requiring them to share decision-making and to collaborate rather than compete for resources;  people in relationships that are problem habits rather than real connections;  professionals who are ready to move on after a thirty-year career but unsure of what they would leap to.  Some free up their latent energy by burning bridges, standing firm in defense of what had been and pushing back against the tide of change.  Others recognize which way the wind blows and put their attention on the doors that open as the present ones close.  They didn’t choose to light the wildfires but they are choosing to direct themselves toward creating their next incarnation.

This is a hallmark of resilient individuals.  The ability to bounce back from adversity- and more constructively- to think ahead and shift in advance of adversity, rests on elasticity of mind as much as quality of character and connection of spirit.  Resilient people are those who can honor the whisperings of the heart and at the same time, cultivate curiosity and information-seeking to add texture and depth to the landscape of the mind.  It is a big idea, sometimes hard to grasp, that whatever the challenges of the moment may be they are impermanent, the particles resulting from a smoldering fireplace or raging conflagration happening some distance from ourselves.  To do so requires a determination to take the long view,  to stop expending energy on changing the direction of the wind and start spending energy on looking for what might lie beyond the moment,  to a time when the forest is leveled and starting to regenerate and the seeds we are planning take root and grow.

Eventually, this smoke over Denver will shift. Some of the airborne ash will continue elsewhere.  Some of it will drift to the ground and bury itself in forests and gardens.  Combined with the other elements, it will become the juice in our tomatoes and the grain of the wood in the table on which it stands.  Think for yourself now.  How are the winds blowing for you?

Click here for an audio version of this blog with additional material: poetry and a thought exercise.