Alma mater

Everything is different, yet exactly the same. That’s life.

Do people change? Sure, they can. Yet no matter how different they are, some ineffable part of them stays the same.

Places are the same way. Have you ever come back to your childhood home, or your alma mater, or some similar place of fond memory and found it to be completely different than before? Have you felt that initial melancholy tinged with nostalgia? Did you then see through the superficial veneer of change, and come to feel at home again; realizing this was still the same place? Like the child all grown up yet still himself, everything is different yet deep down the same.

It’s not just that some fundamental part always stays the same while other, more-superficial parts change. It’s subtly more complex than that. It’s like the ocean: every wave is different, yet each comes from the same source. When you understand the source, all the superficial differences make sense, they aren’t so different. The change becomes a matter of degrees.

It’s like this at every level; every step of the way. Each wave also ripples out making its own waves. Life is an infinite number of causes and effects, a never-ending chain of ever-changing phenomenon flowing from impermanent sources. Each link in the chain operates on an exponentially longer scale of time/space than the last, such that within each level the effects seem to change and the cause, the source, seems to remain the same, yet when put in its broader context each source is revealed to be another ever-changing effect of a yet wider, seemingly changeless cause. On and on it goes.

Chasing this ever more vast chain of impermanence, we seek the absolute and changeless source at the end of the rainbow only to discover, if we’re lucky, that the reason it can never be found is because we’ve had it all along, that it is the infinite, yet infinitesimal emptiness of awareness, the space in which we are. It never changes, yet all it is is ever-changing.

Finding ourselves in the perhaps unique position of seeing this paradox while still dwelling within it, our perspective waffles between micro and macroscopic grandeur. The links in our chain shatter and crush together, collapsing into a single point, only to simultaneously expand to encompass everything. We roll like tiny ships tossed between the valleys of these waves, caused by effects causing effects, and yet all always within each other; a constant, infinitely-expressing potential; full emptiness.

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