“Everything flows and nothing abides. Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” – Heraclitus (c. 540 – c. 475 BC)
So many of our conflicts exist because of our attachment to the idea that the circumstances of our lives are of tremendous importance, and that they are somehow permanent and real. We adhere to this idea vehemently, even to the extent that we believe that our past and future circumstances are permanent and real, here and now. We suffer over our past, allowing our regrets and past traumas to live in our emotional experience today as if they were still happening to us. We suffer over our future, allowing our fears and our uncertainty to create a real experience for us now as if the future has happened already. And we suffer in our present moment over the circumstances which overwhelm us on a daily basis.
In truth, however, our past circumstances are gone. The only thing keeping them alive is our emotional attachment to them. And, in truth, our future circumstances are unknown to us. The only thing making them real now is our attachment to our emotional imagination of how they will be. And, in truth, our present circumstances, no matter how dire, are temporary. The only thing that makes them seem permanent is the significance we give them.
Everything changes. Everything passes. This universe functions in a state of impermanence. We look around at things like mountains, buildings, and even our own bodies, and are struck by the illusion of solidity. But in just a few short decades, our bodies wear down and pass away. In a few centuries, buildings crumble and decay. In a few millennia, mountains shift and heave. These realities hold true for the circumstances of our lives, too. No matter how weighty and important things may seem, eventually everything comes to an end.
At first blush, this universal truth may seem harsh, pessimistic, or fatalistic. But when deeply pondered, impermanence is a wonderful gift. When we can humbly accept that nothing in this existence is permanent, we can shed our attachments to the emotional addictions which hinder our experience. When we learn to live each moment for all that it’s worth – as if it were our last – we can free ourselves from the limitations of past and future thinking, and even take control of our experience of the NOW. When we can, with open mind and open heart, meditate of the impermanence of all things, we find that we are more likely to live our lives in a state of peace, accepting the gifts the Universe unfurls for us without questioning them. Even our challenges become experiences of growth and opportunity because, deep down, we can accept that they, too, are temporary.
Some would argue that focusing on impermanence makes one indifferent. I disagree. Detaching from the sufferings I’ve attached to in my life allows me to live my life more fully. Recognizing the finite nature of all things helps me to appreciate what I have while I have it. Knowing that I have a limited time-frame (in this experience, at least), makes it possible for me to love more fully, taking nothing for granted and cherishing all those who are in my experience. Getting past the stigma of pessimism attached to the concept of impermanence has allowed me to be present and truly live.