mastery of life––the qualities you see in great spiritual masters.
In James’ feeling that he can’t enjoy anything because it’s all impermanent anyway, I think he may be experiencing Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief regarding his own impermanence.
Going through these stages is part of the process of becoming spiritually mature. The most esoteric training of spiritual paths that deal with this question–sometimes referred to as “the great matter of life and death”...
...are, in effect, methods for moving through something akin to these stages. Though the process isn’t always framed in this exact way.
It’s a bit self-defeating, however, to say that since everything ends there’s no value in experiencing it.
This is why many spiritual traditions talk about “being in the moment” or suggest that you “be here, now” instead of mentally being in the future, when what’s happening now (and, in an ultimate sense, you) will have ended.
When you’re just being here, now, the fear of impermanence has no hold on you.
In fact, the now moment becomes much more significant, and much more alive.
Some people say that it’s better to just “have faith”––in effect, to believe that impermanence isn’t real. Everyone is, of course, free to do that, and many people do.
Isn’t it interesting, though, that among the most revered humans in history are great spiritual masters who have made their peace with impermanence?
Those who look reality (one significant aspect of which is impermanence) in the eye and make their peace with it…
...seem to share certain rare qualities–they exude power, equanimity, poise, peace, and compassion.
You sometimes see these qualities in a person with a terminal illness who, after moving through the stages of grief, finally comes to terms with the fact that they are dying.
Family, friends, and caretakers often report feeling what some call “a contact high” from being around such a person…
...and are often in awe as this person goes through his or her death process.
I’m not sure what advice to give about this question, as it isn’t something easy to explain in a few paragraphs.
My own coming to peace regarding this matter, to whatever degree I’ve done that, has been the result of forty-plus years of meditation and many years of work with various teachers, culminating in my association with Genpo Roshi these last few years.
Not many people make their peace with impermanence. It’s much easier–or at least it seems so–to avoid the question.
To make your peace with life–and death–you have to look it squarely in the eye.
And, keep going. Sit with this question of life and death until it loses its hold on you.