Impermanence is simply another name for reality.
Things change and when it comes to our youth, our friendships, our homes, our families, our pets, anything we have become attached to, watching them go can be excruciatingly painful.
And yet, we know that our attachments, like us, will disappear, transform and cease to exist in this world of ever-shifting forms.[i]
Things happen and then, as soon as they arrive, they disappear.[ii]
What seemed so important yesterday—the test, the interview, the game—passed and is gone; like vivid dreams, forms, circumstances and events, which rise up and then fade away.
Think about the college final that meant everything. Where is it now? What happened to it? What about the job interview or the big date in ninth grade?
Although these events were extremely important in the context of our life situation then, they have become memories.
Conversely, when we continue to base our lives on the next event, the next thing, the future, we realize that lasting peace and joy cannot come from this way of living because it has nothing to do with this moment. And, when we desperately expect an outcome, we only add to the inevitable sensation of disappointment.
Living in the past, occupying the future or genuinely believing that something will last forever, are at odds with how life functions and thus, how we function. There is a conflict, then, between our minds and the world we move through that does not have to exist—if we just let go and accept the fundamental truth of impermanence.
Natural change teaches us that in the end, no matter how much we strive to control or resist, the vastness reclaims each and every one of us. This is a humbling and beautiful conclusion to rest against and melt into; there is nowhere for the small mind to hide,and thus an infinite space for the moment to manifest freshly.
“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”
Our emphasis of the external in the contemporary world is a major flaw that negates the true nature of being, of existence. For things manifest and then they are gone…it is a natural process. The next goal or object of our intention comes and then, it too, is gone.
It is simply gone.
When we see this truth, we come to the deep realization of impermanence. “You cannot step into the same river twice,” is what keeps life interesting and also, possible.
Why fight the very law that gives rise to us? We were thrust from impermanence and we return in a blink of an eye.
When I looked into the Buddhist notion of impermanence, I began to question my rigid opinions on what I believed to be right or wrong.
My grandmother’s passing, the leafless oak in winter, quitting my job and the slow decline of an old friendship, were all painful events that had unfolded throughout my life situation. They were standard, universal human events, which course through each person’s experience, in some form or another. What was wrong with these events in my life then?
The more I examined the ‘darker,’ ‘negative’ episodes in my life, the more I found that the events themselves were not bad; they were part of a much larger picture and in most cases, they led to a deeper understanding of the world. These moments, grounded in impermanence, were interconnected with moments of relief, new friendships, love, growth, wisdom and space. All were part of the same universal fabric.
The disconnection between my understanding of impermanence and my reaction to the pain of moving through a seemingly dicey transitional period in my life, was what I delved into most. Why was I so small? Why was it hard for me to take in the entire scene? Why did I have to react and resist the natural flow?
I felt separate and encased and the only way to move out of my shell was to begin accepting the impermanence of everything: my thoughts, the dog, the tree, a rusty can, my physique, the actress’ beauty. They were all wonderful and the prospect of their passing made them each that much more wonderful.
Looking into impermanence was yet another way to create a bond with life that ran much deeper than what I had previously experienced. I was not the center of the universe and I, whatever I was, needed to be here to reap the miraculous moment. It seems a little lofty, appreciating everything and seeing through the core of emptiness, within all objects and beings—but it is reality and reality is a gift.
Why pretend it is any other way?
“Long live impermanence!”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddha compared each human’s life to that of a lightning bolt. He saw each life as a brilliant flash that faded into the storm cloud as soon as it appeared.
The Buddha’s profound wisdom simply points to reality exactly as it is. In the context of the universe, our life is a flash in the cosmic show, melting back into the cloud that bore it. This is not pessimism. It is reality. Why not accept this? Why not incorporate this view into our daily lives so we can appreciate each moment without denying what is?
What happens next isn’t logically clear, for it is beyond the scope of the intellectual mind. All we know is that energy, what we are made of, transforms.
Where? Maybe you will discover this on your path…but for now, focus on the life that is here.
What is known right now?
Our bolt of lightning is lighting up the sky and this is all we need to know; fall headlong into impermanence and embrace it tenderly.
[i] The Buddha said, “this saha world,” which translates as the world of shifting forms that must be endured or experienced.
[ii] Buddha compared this life to a lightning bolt: one blink and the flash is gone.
[iii] In other words, we do not take in the whole picture—one that is so vast, it is impossible to grasp. It is our task to put down our small view of life and to be ok with what springs out of the vastness (non-discrimination).
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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