Thich Nhat Hanh states,
“It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not”.
We often go through life holding onto experiences, people and our possessions with the belief that these things are going to last forever. Even though we know intellectually that everything must at some point come to an end, we may struggle to accept this concept on a deeper level of our consciousness. We form emotional attachments to the people we love, our possessions and our identity.
Impermanence in Buddhism
In Buddhist philosophy the concept of impermanence is a central teaching. Impermanence is the ground of our existence with everything in the universe passing through endless cycles of death and rebirth. Meditating and contemplating the concept of impermanence helps us to accept and embrace the constant comings and goings of life.
Changes lead to Transition and Growth
I recognize that the most difficult times in my life have stemmed from the resistance I have had to major changes and shifts, yet when I have found acceptance for these periods of transition, these experiences have eventually become catalysts for significant periods of transformation and growth. These transitions have included the ending of relationships, moving homes, saying goodbye to friends or having a specific chapter in my life end. Even when I have chosen to embark on a transition, such as when I left Shanghai after living there for 6 years - I experienced a period of difficulty as I gradually needed to adjust to a completely new way of being.
Although forming strong attachments to those we love and the places we live is innate to being human, when we attach so strongly to the belief that these relationships, places and possessions are going to be with us forever, this belief causes resistance and pain - especially when we face the unavoidable ending of these things.
We can also experience this sense of resistance in more subtle ways. For example, when we wake up in the morning in our comfortable and warm bed. Our alarm goes off and we don’t always want to get out of bed! Inevitably, moments like this are also transient and eventually have to come to an end. This concept of impermanence is also helpful to remember when we are experiencing challenging experiences such as illness or mental and physical pain. Remember, these experiences are not going to last forever and they will eventually fade.
Change and impermanence also teaches us to appreciate and live with gratitude for each moment of our lives. We can often become passive about the experiences and interactions that we have with others as these day-to-day experiences become habitual routines for us. However, if we contemplate the fact that each moment we have is temporary, we can bring greater gratitude for each moment as it arises.
Living with Balance
There is a certain balance that can be sought between grieving our pain and loss when things comes to an end and finding acceptance for the constant impermanence of life. So, if you are experiencing difficult physical or emotional pain right now – try to sit with your experience and allow those challenging feelings to be there. Recognize their impermanence. Even throughout the cycle of the day, your moment to moment emotions move like waves, often they will gain intensity but remember - they will inevitably fade away.