We long for permanence and as a result we suffer, for we find none” - Steven Hagen, Buddhism Plain and Simple
The phrase “everything is temporary” used to incite feelings of sadness, angst, frustration and often-times anger within me. Twenty-something year old me (ok, who am I kidding, until sometime very recently, thirty-something year old me) never wanted anything to change. I can recall from a very young age, wishing I could freeze time exactly how it was in any moment of elation, joy, or even contentment. An amazing summer, an especially good year at school, a blissful relationship - I wanted to live in that moment forever. I’d always been incredibly nostalgic and very unhappy when it was time for things to end. Last days of school were particularly upsetting (even the pretend ones in the movies and on TV). I had a hard time understanding how everyone could just accept that we weren’t going to walk down the same halls the next day, or have the same friendships? How could everyone just move on to different people and circumstances? People moving was also major trigger for me and don’t even get me started on relationships. Growing up as a hopeless romantic, I definitely believed in forever. When a very serious boyfriend told me that everything was temporary and alluded to the fact that we may not be in love with each other until the day we died, I took it as a personal affront. I felt that this philosophy undermined the unyielding and never ending power of true love. For me, my aversion to change was mostly about people leaving me.
Because of this fear of impermanence and change, as many of us have, I spent most of my life in a state of self-imposed suffering. My contentment with the status-quo was all I could see and my thinking was small and unimaginative. I couldn’t see past the present moment and what I considered to be comfort and stability. And although, being present is a wonderful and necessary tool, I grabbed onto that present moment and put it in a chokehold and tried to keep it hostage. Needless to say, this was as effective as attempting to grab hold of air. And as always, the harder I tried to hold on to people, moments or things, the more they all seemed to slip through my fingers. The unknown quality of change was far too unimaginable and scary for me and the chance that change could bring happier or better times into my life was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. Too many of us live our lives in this state of manic fear, grasping at air. But we don’t have to stay this way.
What we must realize - what we must see - is that change is inevitable. Everything is changing all of the time. As I was writing that sentence, cells in my body changed to an unrecognizable state, a butterfly emerged from the caterpillar’s cocoon, a teenager graduated from high school and decided to move to a different state for college, a young couple fell out of love, and an old man passed away. Change takes place on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. And although change is what brings endings and death, it is also what brings beginnings and life. It takes place whether we can see it or not and it happens whether we welcome it or not. So knowing this, why don’t we stop fighting the inevitable?
The impermanence of life, circumstances and things should be viewed as a gift. Change is an opportunity for growth, learning and something new. It brings with it something better than you could ever imagine in your current comfortable state. So, it's all about perspective. Approached with the wrong perspective, impermanence can sound downright terrifying. We as humans often fear the unknown instead of looking forward to the excitement of undiscovered possibilities, new paths, new loves. To really revel in the joyful feeling of impermanence, you have to master the art of letting go. And that starts with letting go of fear. When I stated that change brings about endings and death did this incite some form of fear or negative reaction within you? If so, you my friend need a perspective shift. Let change bring about the death of fear. Let it bring about the end of an unhealthy job or relationship. Let it bring an end to that deep hole you may be in currently. Your new awareness of the positive nature of impermanence can be used to pull yourself out of any negative frame of mind or any bad situation. Simply knowing that whatever you are going through is not permanent - and is only temporary - can impact your life exponentially, which in turn can assist you to find the means to change your situation.
But in order to shift your perspective of change and impermanence, you must first set out to discover what is causing your aversion to change and impermanence in the first place. After some deep soul searching, I finally realized that what really bothered me about the notion of impermanence was that it highlighted my lack of control. It reminded me just how human and insignificant I am in that I have no control to make situations, things or people not change. Change IS the nature of life. There’s no way to stop it and why would you want to? Think of all the beauty and innovation that has come from change and impermanence. Would you have it any other way? Think of all the past situations in which you fought against change and tried with all your might to make permanent, yet you are now counting your lucky stars that things didn’t go your way.
When you view the world through a temporary lens, you open yourself up to a multitude of wonderful possibilities for your life. In the inverse, when you attempt to stifle change, you create unnecessary suffering because you will never achieve your goal. So like Elsa said so eloquently in that now immortal song - LET IT GO. Nothing is permanent and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact. Do not fear the unknown or the inevitability of change, instead, use your awareness of impermanence as a tool to accept what is and what may be. We can’t possibly know what wonderful things lay in wait for us around the corner if we just trust, but we have to start with accepting that everything is temporary. How exciting.
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