‘What can we learn from impermanence?’
The reason I chose a picture of a butterfly sitting on a toad’s face is because there is no way that moment lasted for more than a fraction of a second. Does it seem sad because the moment has passed? Do you sense gratitude because you can witness just a moment of its beauty?
We can learn from impermanence. A word that describes perfectly the transient and ever changing state of everything, including us. Impermanence is familiar to those whom study Buddhism. It presents less of a problem to those who subscribe to a faith that offers spiritual eternity.
Impermanence, regardless of faith, applies to us all. Our health is temporary, our time to work is finite, the ground we stand on won’t even remain the same forever.
I remember in my early twenties slipping into a state of deep depression when considering my ‘true’ worldly fate. My answers to all of the challenges in life were answered arrogantly by ‘who cares? We’ll all be dead one day anyway’. After a couple of years of depression, I learned to cope practically with the existential vacuum in my heart whilst wrestling with the meaning of life and the ‘point’ of everything. I smoothed over my own unhappiness and unappreciative beliefs, I never really dealt with the problem.
The hole in my life never truly filled or stopped popping up frequently until I truly started to appreciate how much value impermanence really gave to my life, and what it really meant.
In ‘Taming The Tiger’ Akong Tulku Rinpoche explains how a misdirected grasp of impermanence can be used to justify total apathy, depression or any kind of inaction rooted in the essence of ‘what’s the point?’. A true understanding and correct approach to our temporary existence is to accept change, completely. Accept that change is one of the few true universal constants of human experience. Accept that our experience is temporary, brief and indescribably beautiful. A shooting star is not beautiful because it lasts forever, it is exciting because it is so brief, so transient, that we are lucky to catch even a brief glance. The crash of a wave lasts a moment, it may leave behind beautiful patterns, shells or life. In the same way we can leave behind the legacy of a well tamed mind or ‘Tiger’, a deepened and mature sense of what it truly means to be temporary and to embrace life the way we might embrace a shooting star, with awe, amazement and curiosity.
An analogy I am particularly fond of is one we all may recognise and appreciate. When we were children we would be taken to the park, we would want the experience to last forever. Our parents would eventually start glancing at their watch ‘two minutes, then its time to go home’. As children we were faced with a decision, a number of choices. What did you do? We could have played like we’ve never played in that park before, jump on as many different climbing frames and swings as our little legs could possibly manage. We could have been overcome with a sense of ‘that’s not fair’ and sat with our arms folded and show a pout that would rival any modern day selfie. We could have run around the park in a state of resentment and anger, pinching, punching and scratching as many other children as we could possibly find and leave a trail of self-righteous destruction.
Out of these three options, which version of yourself truly wins? Which version of yourself is both tame and content?
Like the child in the playground, we can embrace the rest of our lives with open hearts and an appreciation of the moments we have. We can show love and compassionate kindness no matter how much time we have. Our transience does not make us pointless or weak, it makes us a shooting star.
I would like to thank you for being so kind in reading my blog. I hope I have achieved my goal of bringing you the same warmth I felt when I learned the true beauty of impermanence. Please share your thoughts, feelings or questions in the comment section below. Your views count!