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 Ge