Impermanence

Impermanence written on beach

Impermanence written on beachI feel the wind coming up in my neighborhood, making all the leaves and branches wave a lazy, fluttery hello.  The clouds look like they’re commuting home from work, steady on their pathways.  I feel the voice of Autumn in the cool breeze tickling my back, though it’s still too far off to actually hear it.  Change is happening.

Summer will give way to Autumn, Autumn to Winter, Winter to Spring, and on and on and on.  We all know this.  It is day now, before it was night, before that day.  My home was once not here.  Now it is.  One day it will be gone.  The same is true for my body!  I was born, was a baby, a child, a teen, a 20-, 30-, 40- and now a 50-something, and one day my body will disappear from this form.

We all know this, but we seldom live it.  Why is impermanence so important to contemplate?  It is the heart of everything, and forgetting about it is the foundation of all our suffering!  If I prefer sunshine then I will suffer when it rains or when it’s dark.  Maybe I will strategize to avoid these daily changes and fly my plane around the planet, chasing the sun continuously.  (Yes, of course I would take the necessary covid precautions).

This sounds ridiculous, but we could start to notice the subtle ways we pretend that things will last forever and our habit of chasing things that are dissipating.   For example, some people find it rude to ask about anything regarding death.  I gleaned this belief from the American culture in which I was raised, that we should pretend we won’t die.  I don’t even know how it happened, but I notice now that it’s counter-culture to open a conversation around dying, and sometimes even called macabre.  We’re supposed to long for youth, even though it can’t last.  Is it helpful to pretend everyone will live forever?  Why do we lie to ourselves and each other?  Isn’t death and loss painful enough that we wouldn’t also want to be taken by surprise when it happens?

So you see how suffering arises when we avoid the idea of impermanence.  We could spend our entire lives wishing things would change or wishing they would not change.  Our wishing doesn’t change reality.  This is the nature of the dualistic mind and a youth-focused culture:  I want to stay young, I do not want to get old.  I want to be healthy, never sick.  I want to live, never die.  I want my marriage to last forever, or at least both of us die at the exact same moment.  I want this pint of Cherry Garcia to be bottomless, like a fairy tale.

So maybe this feels like a teaching you’ve heard so often, you’ve got it, life is impermanent.  Great!  The next piece is recognizing that many people around you have not gotten it.  They’re still living in the dream-like environment of suffering and loss, still struggling to hold on to things that are already slipping through their fingers, grieving how it used to be, wanting fresh cantaloupe in the winter or frosty windows in summer.  It would be so easy to judge their behavior, their motivations, their philosophy, but they just don’t understand.  This is the great moment to awaken your compassion!  Compassion is the wish that others would not suffer and the commitment to stay present when you see that they do suffer.  It is not the same as pity, which puts me above you, looking down, “Poor thing”.  Compassion can also move you to action.

What action?  Meditation and prayer.  How can this be helpful to others?  Firstly, it can help you feel calmer, more supported, less reactive.  Next, when you feel more resourced, you are actually available to others.  Your perceptions might be clearer, less clouded by your own assumptions and less distracted by your perceived problems.  Lastly, it gives you something to do, a way to direct your natural compassion and your desire to help others.  Yes, your compassion is natural, it is who you really are, but this can be forgotten when you’re in pain, impatient, angry and the other 80,000 ways we fall off track.

Prayer and meditation – me?  If this all sounds like too much, if you’ve already decided you’re bad at meditation, or that you have too much baggage around this whole idea of contemplation, just try these phrases.  Just read them once, and if you feel OK, then read them two more times.

May I live in peace.
May I be free from worry.
May I be happy with my life, just as it is.
May I be healthy and well.
May I feel loved and cared-for.

Notice how you feel.  Self-care is step one and this could be the whole practice. This is similar to the Tharavada Buddhist path, where one strives for enlightenment in this lifetime.

To practice compassion for another, simply change the pronoun “I” to “you”.  You can imagine someone you like, love, know, don’t know, anyone!  This is similar to Mayahana Buddhism, where the practice is to liberate others from suffering.  Play with the possibilities, make the practice your own.  You can also personalize the prayers for your intended, like this:

May you live in peace and unafraid.
May you be free from attachments and harmful beliefs.
May you be happy with life, understanding impermanence.
May you be virus-free.
May you love yourself and feel that love.
May you awaken to the reality of change.

You can also pray for yourself and all others, similar to Vajryana Buddhism, which strives to liberate all beings.  You can meditate any way you wish!  What is to stop you from taking charge of your life this way?  Again, just change the pronoun to “we”:

May be peaceful.
May we be free.
May we be happy.
May we be healthy.
May we feel loved.
So it could be very simple.  Just give it a try.  Or don’t!

It is my sincere wish that you feel well, happy, free, healthy and loved.  I hope that this teaching is helpful to you.  It has been so helpful to me and millions of others around the world.  I’ve heard that people use this prayer while they’re washing their hands, or find ways to sing it, to insure that they’ve done their best to reduce the spread of covid to those they encounter, including themselves!