One of the basic tenants of Buddhism is impermanence: nothing lasts. Everything arises abides, and dissolves. “Impermanence is not only to be overcome and endured,” writes Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer,. “It is also to be lived and appreciated.”
It’s a simple notion with reverberating effects. If things are going in a satisfying rhythm, I want it to last forever. If I am unhappy or in physical pain, I can’t wait for things to change. They will, but not necessarily in the direction that I might wish. It’s human nature to grasp at things we want, push away things we don’t want, and be bored by the rest of it. Buddhists call this “the three poisons:” greed, hatred, and ignorance.
Even my life (and the lives of those I love) is impermanent. I won’t be he forever. Rather than being upset by this, I can appreciate and celebrate the time I have.
Toni Bernhard come in her brilliant and helpful book How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, taught me to remind myself that “the vase is already broken.” One Christmas, someone gave me a lovely, blown glass ornament for my tree. As soon as I unwrapped it, and saw how fragile it was, I knew that it would not be mine for long. Sure enough, it broke while we were putting it into storage for the year. It was beautiful, but nothing lasts. The carefree health of my childhood didn’t last past my 21st birthday. It’s no tragedy; it’s the nature of things.
Meditation gives us practice in dealing with our resistance to impermanence and experiencing the three poisons. Meeting our thoughts and feelings with kindness and equanimity, we learn to cultivate generosity, lovingkindness, and wisdom.
Nothing lasts. Our grasping, pushing, deluded minds want to make that good news or bad news. Instead, it is fact. Practicing living our lives with empty hands and open hearts, we can move beyond distress to quiet joy.
In your journal:
- “I want…
- “I don’t like…”
- “I am bored by…”
- “if I lived as if impermanence were true, then I…”
- “When I think about my death…”