No matter what you believe in, what religion, sect, society, philosophy or freedom that resonates within you, there is one thing I feel we can all agree on about life… things will change… there is nothing about life that is truly permanent.
Webster’s Dictionary defines impermanence as: the property of not existing for indefinitely long durations, inconstant, not lasting, not durable.
The Buddhist concept of impermanence or (Annicca), is one of three marks of existence within the Buddhist teachings, along with suffering (dukkha) and non-selfhood (annatta). Understanding this notion of impermanence we see that literally nothing lasts forever, no thought, state, feeling or life will exist permanently, and it is often our attachment to these things that inevitably lead to dukkha or suffering (but we’ll leave these concepts for another day)…
When I experienced my first 10 day silent meditation retreat I was very intrigued when they asked all participants to refrain from journaling while at the retreat, to not focus in so much on the experience and the emotional states that such an experience would generate. They asked us to simple be… to be present in everyday, every moment…. and they used this as a tool to teach us about impermanence. Anything felt today, be it extreme worry/sadness/ fear/guilt/happiness/elation/ tiredness/ ect is as impermanent as this thing we call life.
Years later I remember having a conversation with an aid worker in Haiti. We were discussing the common western view that people who live in extreme poverty seem to hold a secret about being happy, a secret that seems to escape much of the rest of the world. This aid worker had a very interesting view of this… He said that when you live in a state of survival (Which most of use are lucky enough to not be able to relate to) the effect of your present state becomes a lot more visceral, survival can really make a person completely present in the here and now. For example, if you haven’t eaten today then things are really bad, until you eat and then things aren’t as bad anymore. This notion really deepened my perception of impermanence.
Typically our lives in North America feel really full and complicated and as a result we spend a lot of time projecting into the future and dwelling about the past. I am amazed sometimes by my human tendency to lose myself to the chatter of my mind, to emotions like worry and guilt and anxiety. Life can feel really heavy and surreal when you are deep in something like pain, lose, financial strife, or when you are rushing to get somewhere on time or meet a deadline, but as time passes and these common life circumstances are resolved the impermanent emotions that are attached to them instantaneously cease to exist as well… poof! One may argue that all the time we spend bathing in negative emotion is kind of a waste of time.
Now, there is another side to the impermanent coin. The maintenance of a constant state of happiness is also unlikely, and since our happiness isn’t permanently sustained it is natural for the counter emotions (or negative emotions) to flare up again.. bah!
I’m not claiming to have the answers or any surefire suggestions of how to control our natural tendencies to be taken by our circumstances and emotional attachments. But, what I am suggesting is that we add another element to the way in which we perceive the stages and events of our lives, especially when these times are hard and shrouded in sadness or negativity. Like my Christian friends say, “this too shall pass”. Or like my Buddhist teachers taught, we should just try to be present in everyday, every moment, and try not to attach too much to whatever our reality is, because for good or for bad, it is going to change… today and every other day is completely impermanent.