“So you should view this fleeting world, a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.”
Daily reflections on the universal truth of impermanence have been inspired with the recent deaths of two close people, my good friend and sister-in-law Karen, and Kate Krasin who was one of our deeply dedicated Mountain Hermitage yogis, and by the fact that my 70th birthday is coming very soon. I am deeply appreciative of and grateful for the liberating clarity that these reflections offer.
One of the only things we can know for sure is that everything changes. In light of this truth, the only thing we can hold onto is the realization, the intuitive insight of impermanence (Anicca in Pali). The deep knowing, the deep living with impermanence is a gateway to liberation, a gateway to freeing the heart and mind.
One of the most prevalent myths we live with, often quite unconsciously, is the myth that we can control this changing experience we call life, even though everything in this world, everything in the universe begins and ends, is born and dies, is continually changing form – every form of life, every object, every relationship, every sensation, every thought, every feeling, every mind state, every perception, every experience, every breath.
For most of us the word form implies solidity. But in reality, all forms are forming and unforming, coming together and coming apart, constantly and without end. Consequently, our world can’t be solidly objectified. Our world isn’t a noun. It’s a verb. It is incessant activity. Most of the time we only know this conceptually. And perhaps more often we forget or ignore it, or are busy distracting ourselves by accumulating, planning, living in and out of memories, fantasizing, hoping, expecting, coveting, fearing. If we tightly cling to the imagined future or the evaporated past, inevitably we will experience disappointment, anger, judgment or grief, and we will have missed the fullness of the present moment, missed our “appointment with life” as well as reinforcing the delusion of control and permanence. So, much of the time we’re actually practicing permanence.
As we learn through our practice to pay a kind of extra-ordinary attention to our experiences of body, heart and mind, we begin to directly touch, to experientially know the constant rapidity of change – from the apparent solid substantiality of form, to the smaller, perhaps micro-changes in bodily sensation, to the seeming substantiality of thoughts that fly through the mind. A Tibetan teaching tells us: “All thoughts, good, bad, happy, sad vanish into emptiness, as the imprint of a bird in the sky.”
And so our relationship to all the forms, both inner and outer, begins to change. The compulsive, addictive grasping onto the ‘passing show’ begins to loosen. Trying to control what is actually uncontrollable and ungovernable – this ongoing miracle of constant change we call life – begins to soften as we open our hearts and begin to clearly ‘see and know’. We begin to recognize the fear that is beneath the impetus to control and we see how excruciating it is to grasp on so tightly. With this blossoming recognition, the fear of being in and with life just as it is begins to relax, open and dissolve as we surrender more deeply to the truth of the moment. So now we are practicing impermanence.
As the understanding/the wisdom of Annicca/impermanence deepens, it brings great relief and lightness into our lives. We no longer need to haul around such a heavy load and there is time and energy available to live to our heart’s content.