I am reading an extraordinary new book, The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski. Extraordinary. Am only half way through and it’s already had a huge impact on me. I will write about it in greater detail when I finish.
One of the words that really moved me in the book is the word “impermanence”. I don’t think I ever really used or understood that word. Even as a Buddhist, I knew that it was an important concept, but the word itself was kind of foreign to me. And when Frank (the author and also a Buddhist as well as many other amazing things) kept referencing that word, I had to dive deeper into it and find its true meaning and application. And when I really felt like I understood its significance, it was like an “aha” moment for me. The kind that in business they always ask the founder of a company, “what was your ‘aha’ moment?”
Much of what Buddhism teaches is the practice of living in the moment and using techniques like mindfulness, meditation and even yoga to help train your mind to let things pass and to live in the present. As the great Ram Dass says, “Be. Here. Now.” But for most of us who are busy building careers, families, healthy marriages, our own sense of place, etc., it’s not so easy to do.
Grievances come. Feelings get hurt. Nothing it seems really goes as planned. People piss you off. Jobs come and go. Endless “to do” lists. Stresses of being a parent. Judgments of others. Disappointments of loved ones and friends. Societal pressures. And on and on. They all come out a million times a day, often all at once. Just daily life struggles in a normal modern life.
But as I have learned, almost all of my struggles are manufactured in my thoughts. They aren’t real. Most never materialize. I am blessed that bombs are not falling on my head and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or where I will sleep tonight. But nonetheless, I would often find myself anxious about the past and the future. And all of those anxieties live in my thoughts. I also see how most of our suffering also comes from attachments. Attachments to expectations. Attachments to thoughts. Attachments to suffering of long ago or future fears.
In the past, I would build narratives about one day obtaining nirvana. The perfect weekend. The perfect vacation. When I finally got XYZ I would be able to relax, chill, rest, breathe. It was always based on some external condition. But, of course, it never went according to plan. Someone would say something, do something, act a certain way, or it would rain, traffic would magically appear and I was late, I got sick and on and on. And I was defeated because my “conditional” state of perfection never arrived. Something ALWAYS happened to spoil it.
At least that’s how I USED to think. Now, through Buddhism, mindfulness and yoga, I see that not only do I have control of my internal happiness, I understand that everything, and I mean everything, is impermanent.
In Wikipedia there is a wonderful line about this concept of impermanence in Buddhist thought…”Everything, whether physical or mental, has a dependent origination and is impermanent. It arises, changes and disappears.”
Change is constant. Nothing ever lasts but a moment. Everything passes. Life is in constant motion. We are always evolving. And THIS is good. This is healthy. This is wonderful.
That moment I was stuck in full frustration didn’t last. That work thing that didn’t go as planned was actually a blessing in disguise. My kids’ failures were great lessons. And most of my suffering lied in my attachments to things that were not even real but imaginary or ghosts of the past.
If you think about it, our entire world is impermanent. The skies are in constant motion. Time never stands still. We age every second. Motion is constant. So why do our minds then so yearn for something to remain still and permanent when it’s impossible that they ever do?!? To last as long as it can as it is. When we finally accept that every smell, every sight, every action, every thought…won’t last but a second, it’s actually incredibly liberating.
Life itself is the great reflection of how everything is impermanent. We are born. We die. In between we are in constant motion, aging, growing, experiencing, learning, evolving. And every part of that is impermanent.
I see now that to stress over any situation is futile. To try and control anything is a waste of energy. And that in this constant state of impermanence lies the greatest actual gift…to learn from every experience and to really, really focus on each tiny, fleeting moment in front of us. To see the sky. To smell the fragrance. To listen to the sounds. To fully absorb that person right in front of you.
So, my advice is that if you are the type of person that is thrown off by your desire to have conditions of permanence in your life and you get easily upset by the unexpected, understand that the unexpected should always be expected in life. And therein lies the beauty of life.