“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”- Thich Nhat Hanh
We know that nothing—absolutely nothing— in this life is permanent and yet, we humans are hopeful creatures that need security like it’s air or water: we have this persistent need to believe that things can last forever.
We’re like little children that need something to cling onto when things get a bit scary…and so most of us prefer to cling. “Forever” is our security blanket. It makes the uncertainty and seeming indifference of the universe seem less dangerous and more bearable.
Unfortunately, it is also the root of many of our suffering.
We think that as long as we keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing to maintain our relationships, our businesses, and our many other obligations, that things will remain the same. It’s as if hard work and consistency are the magic potions to make things last. We will later realize how this kind of attempt to control life from flowing is not only futile, it leads to painful heartbreaks and many wrong decisions, too.
Nothing is permanent. You know it, I know it, just about everybody knows it. Even the walls of our houses change little by little every single day. But we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want the uncomfortable feelings that go hand-in-hand with facing impermanence.
But the thing is, the more we dismiss this very basic fact of life, the more difficult it will be to move through life. And not only that! If we continue to turn a blind eye on impermanence, we will not be able to reap its benefits.
So what I’m proposing is this: that we shouldn’t see impermanence as a villain/catastrophe that we should fight off or come to terms with, but as a gift that can help us live a fully-engaged life.
Yes, it’s not wrapped in pretty packaging, not at all (my goodness, what is this wrapper that can make us shed tears and question everything we know about life!?), but it is one of the most important gifts handed to us.
Impermanence is a bittersweet reminder of life
Impermanence isn’t just something that we should learn to tolerate and overcome, it is something to be truly appreciated.
Knowing all things, events, and people are impermanent—that anything could just change or disappear or end at any given day — allows us to be more present and more grateful for what we have here and now.
We will all turn to dust one day and that should make every second of our existence very precious. Isn’t it wonderful that we are on a planet called earth where we exist together with butterflies and high-speed bullet trains?
Impermanence is a reminder of death and rebirth while we are still alive.
The daisies in your garden will probably be gone in a week so go smell them and touch their soft petals. Your little babies will leave for college in a decade or two, embrace them much longer. YOU will be gone in a hundred years so go ahead and celebrate each part of you.
Isn’t it nice to be able to do all of these things while they’re still here…while you’re still here?
Impermanence makes us more aware of every second that passes. Here you are, reading this and the next second you’re already reading this. Time has passed and no magic potion can take you back to a second ago.
Everything changes every second, so let’s enjoy the present while we’re in it. The present is magic, impermanence is magic, life— second by second— is magic.
Impermanence makes us look deeper
There’s something Ursula LeGuin wrote that stuck with me. It says:
“If you can see a thing whole, it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives. . . . But close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance. The way to see how beautiful earth is, is to see it from the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.”
Impermanence allows for “mini-deaths” to happen. It allows us to zoom out of our lives and examine it from afar.
When something very important to us ends, we mourn for its death. It’s an absence we have to live with. These moments are painful and then we’re forced to see what we have and who we are.
These moments, no matter how painful or unfair or uncomfortable, make us ask ourselves important questions.
It could be as practical as “Where should I go next?” or “How can I keep this secret from my children?”
Or it could be as deep as “Why can’t I be happy?”
The answers may never arrive or they may arrive late. But just having these questions is enough to make our life more meaningful. It makes us pause for a moment, see things from a distance, and examine our one precious life.
Impermanence means possibilities
If you’re not happy with where you are right now, be comforted by the fact that change will eventually come to you. It’s bound to happen. It has no choice but to visit you no matter how inconspicuous you try to be or how much you try to resist it. And that’s to be celebrated, not feared.
Sometimes, we get so scared of impermanence that we push it away.
We’d rather be suffering in a “safe harbour” than know what’s out there. We don’t want to gamble because what if the cards we’ll be given are much worse than what we currently have?
You see, we often say we want change but we’re scared to take the leap or to even open our arms to welcome change. If we’re fixed in our ways, if we have a hard time letting go of the things that will allow us to change, it would be a lot harder for change to seep in the cracks and transform our lives.
It’s scary to not know exactly what’s in store for us. If we’re not in a happy relationship, for example, we’d rather stay because we’re scared the next one will be more abusive and toxic, or worse we’ll end up alone. But here’s the thing: that next chapter in our life won’t last forever, either. If it turns out just as bad as what you have now, don’t worry. It’s also impermanent.
Impermanence is your friend. It allows many possibilities to come to you. It’s there to carry you and prepare you to your next phase in life.
If we accept impermanence, then we are open to what comes.
Impermanence makes us experience a fully-engaged life
Imagine if nothing much changed in our lives. What if you’re still the same person as you were ten years ago, or you’re still with your first sweetheart in High School, or you’re still working at your first job.
Aside from it being boring, you also won’t have plenty of life experiences that would make your life rich and meaningful.
I am not saying that it’s great to be restless and that we should try every single thing life has to offer to have a rich life. What I’m trying to say is that, no matter how bad it may seem right now, we should welcome impermanence because it allows us to experience life in full—a life that’s not limited only to comfortable emotions, a life that has highs and lows and everything in between.
There are so many things to experience while we’re living and we have to thank impermanence for making life an adventure.
The fact that nothing is permanent is a scary one, but it’s something we must remind ourselves often. Instead of clinging on to how things were or how we’d like them to be, we have to learn to live with impermanence.
We have to let life hold us by the hand and allow it to lead the way.
Dancing with impermanence is true grace.