It is a very human tendency when a pleasant state of affairs is attained that we strive to maintain it. But, much to our chagrin and frustration, try as we may, it never lasts. The new car we loved so much loses its’ luster, the fun party must end and everyone go home, the infatuation and excitement of new love fades, good health is interrupted with illness, our happiness at winning at a game of chance is short lived, the new exciting job becomes drudgery, etc.
But, the other side of the coin is also true. We try to get rid of those states that we find unsatisfactory, painful, or intolerable, but in this case impermanence works in our favor and these unpleasant things also fade away. Unfortunately, we don’t give much credit to impermanence here; instead we focus on the frustration produced by the elimination of the pleasant things we want to keep.
The truth is that impermanence is permanent. Nothing can or will ever stay the same. Constant change is the rule of nature. If we try to prevent change we’re effectively trying to prevent the tide from rolling in and out, the fall from turning to winter and then to spring, or the flowers from budding, blooming, and decaying. The human condition is one of continuous unending change. If we strive to stop it we will inevitably be unhappy and frustrated.
Our words and concepts help to trap us in a belief that there is permanence in the world. When we use the word apple we tend to see it as a fixed and permanent entity rather than something that is in a process of continuous dynamic change, from seed, to seedling, to tree, to bud, to green apple, to ripe apple, to decaying apple, to seed. The same goes for a good friend whom we name and see as a permanent entity, whereas this individual like the apple is just at a single point in their continuous changing lives. Everything is impermanent and ever changing. To see anything as otherwise is a delusion.
In fact, the permanence that we think we want is not all that it’s cracked up to be. When everything stays the same we get very bored. In other words we really don’t like permanence. The learning that we relish is itself a form of impermanence altering what we know and believe. Without that form of impermanence we would never be able to improve or adapt. In fact happiness itself is a change in state, without impermanence we could not have either happiness or sadness. We certainly would not like permanent sadness or panic. We certainly wouldn’t enjoy having to watch the same movie over and over and over again, or for that matter hearing the same note continuously.
So, we should be thankful for impermanence. It is responsible for what we label the spice of life. It’s what allows us to adapt and grow. It’s what keeps us interested in life and the environment and people that surround us. It’s what makes a rainbow wondrous. It’s what makes music and art beautiful. It is actually even responsible for keeping us healthy by constantly replacing worn out cells, eliminating dying or diseased tissues, or eliminating an invasive virus. Change is, in fact, a very good thing.
We should actually revel in impermanence. Not only stop trying to counteract it or even just accept it, but rather to be ecstatic about it. We can observe with awe the wonder of the ever present evolution of all experiences and things. We can enjoy the forever changing symphony of feeling and sensations we experience. We can rest peacefully in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a new adventure, completely different from today.
We can truly enjoy the good feelings we experience and focus on them knowing that they won’t last. We can be elated that we’re having this wonderful experience and not ignore how good it is in the futile attempt to maintain it. Better yet, we can know that the things that are not to our liking will also change and look forward to better experiences. Impermanence is permanent and also wonderful when accepted. Don’t fight it, join it.
So, mindfully experience every delicious impermanent moment. It will never be repeated or happen again. So, treat as the one time treasure that it is.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies