Love Impermanence

We live our lives seeking situations or things that are permanent. This might include a relationship, a profession, investments, our bodies, or beliefs. It is human nature to plan for the future seeking a sense of certainty as if we had control over the present or the future. Here is one of my favorite quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, founder of the Plum Village Tradition. One of the primary tenants of Buddhism is impermanence. Impermanence is the lack of permanence, or the fact that everything is changing, thus nothing is really permanent or even certain. I guess if there is any certainty it would be that nothing is permanent. As you are reading this your body is changing, the weather is changing, even our own most strongly held beliefs are under siege. Because of impermanence our plans for the future are at best a wish and in reality are extremely uncertain.

If you can accept that everything is impermanent you will begin to free yourself from worrying about your problems. If everything is impermanent than so is your pain and suffering. That situation that is causing you so much grief is likely to change and you will inherent a new problem to worry about. Flip the coin and the joy you feel today may be replaced by pain tomorrow, or by some other form of happiness. You might be thinking well all this in not very comforting and what am I to do about this impermanent life of mine? The answer is that there is nothing for you to do. If you need to do anything it would be to simply accept impermanence and live in the present moment.

Listen, I’m not saying you should not make plans, but any plan you make must include some flexibility due to the fact that whatever you have planned will likely need to change. Working towards a goal you have can be a wonderful thing, but then impermanence steps in and what you are working for may no longer be possible to achieve. Remember impermanence does not equate to something negative and in fact it often will result in new opportunities that avail themselves if you are willing to embrace uncertainty and drop your bullshit adherence to the plan you have in your head.

Let’s say you have this job working for some corporation and your plan is to work there for the next 5 years and then retire. However your company begins losing market share and they have to eliminate your high paid position. You could be angry, start blaming the company or yourself, and have a nice pity party and this might be something you decide to keep doing for the foreseeable future. For someone who embraces impermanence this kind of reaction to the situation would be impossible. The person that accepts uncertainty would say Fuck it and move on. The plan you had is no longer valid, but you think well let’s take a look at this world of possibilities and act upon some other interests you have. I have personally been in similar situations and every time a door closed, another one opened and the change only enhanced my life. This is why I love impermanence because when you embrace it you learn and grow as a person, you become unstuck. Here is another quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Learn to love impermanence and all will be well with you.

Namaste

 

Casting off attachments

One of the primary concepts in Buddhism is that impermanence is an undeniable fact of human existence.  For each of us this means that nothing in our lives is permanent, not our job, not our health, not our relationships, not even our state of mind. If we can accept that nothing lasts forever and that it will inevitably change then we are more capable of understanding attachment.

Many of us are attached to who we think we are because of what we do for a living. We secretly know that whatever it is we do will not last, but we still place great emphasis on this role. We often use this role in society to attach some value to ourselves, and yes whatever we do is often in exchange for money, so it does have value. It strokes our ego to be paid for some form of expertise and we attach ourselves to this title be it a Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Judge, Accountant, CEO, CIO, Director, or whatever it might be. We scheme and plan for the next role using our expertise to acquire more money, a higher position, or some other ego enhancing attribute. We have attached our self to this persona and we find comfort in the fact that others find value in utilizing our skills.

Yet this attachment goes beyond the role we have chosen for ourselves that generates income. We start to attach ourselves to political parties, calling ourselves a Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian. Our attachments are strong, as you have often heard people say I’m a lifelong Republican or Democrat. If this were not enough we attach ourselves to things such as cars, homes, boats, jewelry, stocks, bonds, gold or some other material thing. We attach ourselves to other people like a family member, a spouse, co-worker, or a friend. We also attach ourselves to a self image of the way we look and our health good or bad.

With all these attachments we become very reliant on our role, organizations, health, things, and people for defining our identity. All of this is a house of cards, we will not escape the reality of impermanence, for every one of these things that we think defines our life are constantly changing. These attachments ultimately lead to one disappointment after another, as they unravel before our eyes and I assure you they will.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you do for a living, but remember at some point it will change. Even the most successful Doctor finds a time when he or she can no longer practice medicine, or no longer wants to. Strong attachments will create pain as they are broken and this is what this post is about. I’m not advocating that you live a life where you don’t care about anything or anyone, but you must let loose of the attachment to these things. Accept the fact that your life will change and that you will change physically, mentally, and spiritually. Do you really want your self worth tied to some profession? When you were born were you predestined to be a doctor, lawyer, executive, or factory worker? You made choices to pursue various lines of work and became what you pursued. Drop that attachment, you are not what you do for a living, and it does not define you, and as sure as it started it will end or change.

Start thinking about what you are attached to and how you can be open to things beyond your attachments. Can you find it in yourself to be less dependent on what you do for a living, organizations, people, and things. If you can, I assure you that you will become more care free; you will still care but you will not let these attachments dictate your happiness. To free yourself from attachments is a key step to following the way. I will see you on the path.

Namaste