Embracing Impermanence

by Nita Walker

When I was in high school, I felt like the Ugly Duckling. I felt very inferior. I think my Mom realized it and decided it was time for me to look more feminine. She took me to the beauty shop and insisted that I get a permanent. I hated the smell, the rollers, and the subsequent unruly curls. Thankfully, that “permanent” was NOT permanent.


It is said that the only thing in life that is permanent is impermanence. A plant’s blooms, a bird, a sunset, a hug, a smile, a flame, a meal: hours to fix it, minutes to eat it. Even our beliefs and views change and evolve. And we too have expiration dates.


When we become aware of impermanence, it shakes up our security and can cause anxiety and unease. It forces us to realize that there are things out of our control. Yes, permanence is an illusion.


If we step back to look at our past years as the singular events that made them, we see how very fleeting life is. No matter where we look, change is happening. When we attach to an outcome or belief as to how things should turn out, despair can easily follow. I learned this recently when my expectation of my visit with my Alzheimer’s friend so disappointed me.


Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”


If everything were permanent, no one would ever die. You would not exist. None of us would ever have come into being. It is because no-thing, nothing, is permanent that we are alive. And we get to live, each of us on our paths, impacting each other for better or worse, breathing air, watching clouds, and feeling raindrops.


The temporariness of life can add simplicity and beauty to things. Music is an example. It is invisible and exists only in the moment as we surrender to the moment. In Japan, cherry blossoms are valued for their transience and their evanescence. They use the term “Mono No Aware” (mono-no-awe-wah-re) which means the “ahh-ness of things, life and love”

Tibetan Buddhist monks are the one group of people who can best handle emotions that come with thoughts of impermanence. They master this by rituals of spending weeks creating elaborate sand mandalas, then destroying them in a matter of minutes.


As I meditate on impermanence, it reminds me to never get too caught up in any one thing or person because nothing that comes into our lives stays forever. Emotions are easier to accept and we are able to create space to become the witness to them instead of reacting to them. We can watch thoughts come and go more freely instead of making up stories for all the possible outcomes. For negative emotions, this can be a relief. For positive ones, we can perhaps feel the present more profoundly.


Alan Watts says: “’The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance”


I close with a poem that I wrote, using only titles of our previous meditations. It seemed that all these phrases applied to embracing impermanence:


Embracing Impermanence


Living in Uncertainty, I Can Control My Attitude

Changing Times, Ebb and Flow of Life

Pause and Reflect, Life is Change


Wander with Awareness, Stay Awake

Turn with the Flow, Reframing

Finding the Gems, Feeling Present


Carrying On, Wage Peace With Your Heart

Grounded Presence, Send a Bubble of Light

Waking Up to Our Wisdom, Breathe Into It


Steadiness versus Resistance, Resistance Leads to Persistence

Surrendering is an Inside Job, Breathing Releases Me

Being in Flux, Motion and Stillness, Let Go and Rest


Shifting Perspectives, Suffering is Optional

Getting Out of Our Own Way, Doorways

Being in the Now, Life is Stunning



Participants’ Reflections:

  • Thank you for your reading and pulling together the poem with all the titles of past blogs. I want to go back and reread all of the blogs because there's just so much there.

  • Thank you. My experience is that you channeled that to us. The way it was woven together was just magnificent. So when you said it felt like a river, I think it was. And then, not only was it channeled to the paper, but it channeled through us. I know it gave me a sense of impermanence. It gave me a sense of completion in the incompletion of where we're going now. I'm very grateful for that. I had the opportunity, the honor of watching the dismantling of a mandala that Buddhist monks had built. They had formed this incredible beauty in the art. I was there for the dismantling ritual and the release. It was absolutely beautiful. They brought the multicolored sands that made up this piece of incredible sand art to the Mississippi River and they released it in the name of peace on Earth. It was an absolutely incredible afternoon for me. And so you brought me to that, as we too are taking on a new form and feeling the impermanence there. I so appreciate that. It also reminded me of something I read just a few days ago, and it was from a spiritual healer. I don't remember who wrote it. But it said that during these times in which we are ushering in a new era, one that is led by feminine energy, that there's only one thing for us to do now, and that is to be as if we are in the full, vast body of an ocean and allow the rivers of change to flow in at this time. I felt that during the reading and during my own meditation. I went to a body of water. And in that body of water I can feel what is flown through us, through Shirley and what will flow through us outward into the ocean now. And so in that impermanence, who are we to block that flow, except to allow this transformation to occur. Oh, my God, what a river. And that was an amazing, beautiful summary of our experience thus far in this journey. Thank you.

  • Nita says: Thank you. I have had this thought more than once, things like putting sands into the Mississippi River. Nuns and monks that pray constantly, it seems to me that people doing activities like that—how do we know but what they have held us together? Though, it's invisible, like the wind.

  • I just wanted to say thank you. That was a beautiful quilt you stitched together. And thinking about impermanence, our newspaper woman gave us two whirligigs or pinwheels. And it occurred to me that they make the wind visible whirling away and reflecting the transitional wind for a bit.

  • Wow, that was really comprehensive and beautiful. So well thought out and connecting so many different things. It really was like a foundational kind of way, a context to think about my experience in the group. It was foundational to many of the themes that emerged for me. And then I found myself reflecting on living in a retirement community, where I never use the word permanence. Impermanence has been shouting at me, in terms of what I notice about one's body as we age, the difficulties and challenges as well as the beauty that arrives as we age. I can see, in so many ways how I've been fixated on something being permanent and change always throwing a curveball in there and not liking that. And something about being in this community has really made me face impermanence. There is a certain feeling when discussing those who’ve passed away. There's just the essence of things that leave the world so much more clearly than I ever recognized. So I appreciate so much what you said. It triggered a lot of different things.

  • Thank you. I think this morning for the first time I thought about impermanence in a positive light. I was always thinking of it as a bad thing, wanting the things I like to stay around. I was always a little sad when they weren't permanent. And yet, if I start from the realization that everything is impermanent, then I’m more in a place of gratitude for the time I have with it. I have had various friendships throughout my life that I haven't kept up with. And yet, if I think of everything as impermanent and they were wonderful while I enjoyed them, it doesn't seem so sad. I was glad to have that relationship. Thank you for helping me think about it and tying everything together.

  • Nita says: I actually went back and took time to write down all the titles from the blog. It was a great experience. I may come out with another poem or two. It was so fun. I went through all the ones that I felt spoke to impermanence. And then, when they came together, it was like creating my own river.

  • One of the words that comes to mind when I think of you is steadfast. A lot of emotions come along with it, steadfast in your wisdom, your kindness, your insight. There's permanence to impermanence. And the two ways I was thinking of is when we do move on, we all go to the next phase. We're not going to be all gone, we'll be another form of energy. I believe we'll see everyone, and our pets. And then I think of nature. The cycles—the leaves fall, and they eventually break down. They feed the roots underneath. There are all these cycles in nature. So even though it's impermanence, it just goes around and around. The energy changes, the form changes, but it doesn't totally go away. Thank you.

  • I too want to say thank you for that. It was absolutely beautiful. I loved every word. I loved your poem. And it reminded me so much about how my life has been enriched more and more every day that I'm here at this time with you all. I thank you all for that. I've quoted this quote before, a slogan from a skateboard company. “The only constant is change.” I just love that short little sentence. I saw it every day on my kid’s backpack. It was really powerful for me to see and I think about it often. The last thing I was going to say is that I love taking pictures and I love photography. And what I love most about it is being in that moment when I'm with a little creature that no one else is seeing, and I can just spend time with it. It almost feels like they posed for me. I feel like I get to capture this little moment in time that will never exist again. And it's sometimes not even about putting the picture out in the world, it's just the experience of that, and being able to just really examine the image.

  • Thank you. I just want to say I love you. And your reading today, impermanence is such a profound experience. And how often it's something we’re grasping on to. But you mentioned the beauty of impermanence. And the Japanese word that you translated into, the honest of things. I love the honest of things or the ahh-ness of things. I can hold both. I think I heard what I needed to hear. It's like radical acceptance. The ahh is the grounding reality of things. And also for me, the honest of things. And impermanence is also this too shall pass. Mostly, I just love you. Thank you.

  • Thank you for writing that and sharing it and for doing the work for putting together the poem that was just beautiful.

  • Nita says: And I feel like I've been given roses from everyone this morning. This is better than getting a dozen roses.

  • Shirley says: And your job was to accept them. And you did because you're feeling it. I had a phrase years ago when stuff was happening: “I receive with joy.” Even though my teeth were grit and things were happening, I would affirm, I receive with joy. It was a powerful mantra reminding me to receive the joy in everything.

  • Thank you. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for participating in yet another powerful morning starting our day and opening our eyes and hearts and going forth. Each of us has the ability to pick up the phone, to send an email, to set up a zoom date. Connections do not end unless we choose to end them. And we have the ability to meet with, visit, and keep going. I encourage you all to think about that door and keep it ajar. I hope you all have a gentle day. Be gentle and be nice to yourself.


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