Understanding and Embracing Impermanence

words & photo by Brian Thompson.

No one can ever honestly promise total security. There is no safety that can ever be absolute. No one can ever truthfully say to another, “Don’t worry, everything will be alright”. Such things are beyond anyone’s control.

Impermanence rules everything. Everything is susceptible to change, everything transforms. Nothing lasts forever.

Without impermanence, all of life would be impossible. A seed could not grow into a fruit, for it would forever remain a seed. A boy could not become a man. An idea could not become a plan. Spring would never arrive, winter would never leave.

All things grow and change, and whither and fade. All things become strong, and then become weak. Not just physical things, but so too with intangibles such as our forms of awareness; including our thoughts, ideas, feelings, concepts, states of minds, mental energies, and all of our relationships too. All things are impermanent, and yet we still try to base our happiness onto things staying exactly the same or remaining as they currently are.

When we try to make impermanent things permanent, we cause ourselves to suffer when they eventually change.

And so, we set ourselves up for great disappointment and personal disaster when we cling to things and hope they’ll never change. If we ignore the fundamental transient nature of things, we're living inside of a dream. When we're suddenly awoken we’ll be left feeling confused and panicked by our entire dream-world taken away.

We mustn’t ignore the inherent impermanence that defines life itself. No matter how tightly we cling to things, at one point or another, they will still undergo change. At first, such a realization can weigh heave upon a person’s mind. It can be a source of great sadness. It can even lead to an aching existential crisis, that is, if the other perspective of impermanence isn’t explored and embraced.

All things will one day disappear, we cannot change that.

What we can change however, is our relationship with impermanence itself. We can change how we interact with things — we can change our relationship with the world and with all the things in it — with all of our possessions, our family, our friends, including our thoughts and our emotions.

By being ever mindful of impermanence, we value things more. We don’t attach our happiness onto something staying the same. Instead, we learn to appreciate what we have, while we have it, because we know it won’t last forever. We savour things more when we know they're temporary. We don’t take them for granted.

When you observe the impermanence within everything, you end up cherishing everything so much more. Everything becomes precious. Colours become more vivid. Smells become more intense. Sensations become sensational. Every experience becomes one-of-a-kind, beautiful and rare. It’s a practice that deepens your respect for everything — no matter if it’s your parent or your partner, your coffee mug or your car, your job or your home, your walk in the park or your time spent playing with your dog. They will all one day disappear, so offer them your respect, love, admiration, reverence, gratitude and compassion while they’re still here.

Immerse yourself fully into each and every moment. Wrap yourself in your awareness and feel gratitude for all that each moment contains.

Living in such a mindful way lessens the sting and pain suffered during loss; we have no regrets, which is what makes up a large part of grieving. There is no regret when you have loved something with your fullest intent and you have appreciated it in every moment you shared. A sadness in its passing may still be there, but grief is overshadowed by abundant joy. You feel blessed by its presence in your life, no matter how short-lived it may have seemed to be. You are grateful for its experiencing.

When something you own breaks or shatters, you can easily say, “Of course it did”.

All along, you knew it would eventually break. Nothing lasts forever. When someone close to you dies, you can say, “So, today was their day”. You’re not happy they have passed and are now gone, but your life isn’t destroyed by it either. You knew this day would come. It happens to everyone, and today was their turn. You celebrate their life rather than grieve their death. You are blessed by having known them and shared things with them.

By always observing and being aware of impermanence we appreciate life more.

We respect it more, and in doing so it creates a ripple effect that impacts every area of your life. What previously might have been a great sadness, transforms into an abundant happiness that knows no bounds and overflows onto everything you encounter.

You gaze at a flower and soak in its beauty more intently. You savour it, knowing it won’t be last for long. You enjoy every moment you have with it more deeply. The same can be said for all of the people in your life. This also aids one while enduring personal difficulties, pain, suffering or stress, you know they won’t last either.

While being always mindful of impermanence may at first appear to be somewhat morbid and nihilistic, it is actually the single most effective way to cultivate gratitude, happiness and well-being in your life.

When you’re grateful for everything you have, including each moment in which you take another breath, happiness abounds.

You become filled with the warmth of appreciation for everything and everyone you encounter, and for all of the experiences you have. You become blessed with a gratefulness you can’t contain and that leaves you with an afterglow of happiness that is more genuine than anyone could ever possibly imagine.