Memorial Day seems a fitting time to bring up the Five Remembrances (also called the Five Reflections):
I am of the nature to grow old. Aging is inevitable.
I am of the nature to become ill. Illness is unavoidable.
I am of the nature to die. Death cannot be avoided.
Everything I love will change and pass away.
My actions are the only thing I own. I inherit their results.
The first three remind us of the signs young Siddhartha saw that caused him to question human existence and suffering. The fourth reflection reminds us of impermanence. The last one asks us to reflect on karma, the law of cause and effect, and to know that how we behave today has future consequences.
Some of my fellow yogis make this teaching, or even just one of the five, their daily meditation practice. Any one of these teachings, fully penetrated with wisdom, can lead to awakening. Over the years, I have found it helpful to memorize these five recollections or have a printed placard in my meditation space. Before each sit, I can read or recite the remembrances. Then, without thinking about them, I just sit with the spirit of the recollections in the silence.
Another profound way of working with them is upon waking up, to recite the remembrances as a way of putting them out front of your day. If all five seem to be too much to work with, then take one recollection a week and rotate through them. If, for example, I work with the first one, “Aging is inevitable,” I can look around at any living thing including myself and see its signs. The task in practice is to observe deeply where there is clinging (to youth and vitality?) or aversion (to wrinkles and loss of strength?). My task is only to understand what is happening, where there is reactivity, without trying to make it be different than it is.
Acceptance is a fruit of practice, not its goal.