The Gift of Living in Alignment with Impermanence
A reflection on practice by Kristina Baré
In his teachings, the Buddha again & again pointed to the importance of seeing impermanence – the changing nature of all conditioned phenomena. In a well known sutta, he stated that living just one day clearly seeing impermanence, is more important than living a hundred years without seeing impermanence . Deeply recognizing impermanence, in our own lived experience, is described as a potential doorway to liberation – the deepest peace, the unconditioned, nibbana.
Yet many of us automatically brace against this truth. Although we may recognize that seasons change, that days turn to nights, that relationships change, we often have a more difficult time opening to the fleeting nature of all phenomena, including our own bodies & our own minds. On a very deep level we often seek stability & predictability in the way we structure our lives. We may know intellectually that human bodies age, get sick, and die. Yet we often relate to life as if it was meant to last. We often feel that “something is wrong” when aging, sickness & death are happening. Sometimes we even feel that it is a personal failure when it happens to us.
One reason why it’s so hard for us to align with impermanence is that we rarely see into this truth in a deep way. For us to have liberating insights, we need to move from a conceptual knowing of impermanence , to a direct knowing of change as it’s actually happening from moment to moment. It is this type of vipassana seeing that supports a letting go of the deeper habit patterns that cause stress & unhappiness for us.
The Thai Forest master Ajahn Chan is quoted for saying that he was relating to his tea cup as if it was already broken. This may sound depressing at first. Yet, when we contemplate this teaching more deeply, we may intuit the potential freedom that it offers. What would life be like, what would each moment be like, if we deeply acknowledged that it was never meant to last? One possibility is that we would feel depressed & sad about this truth. Another possibility is that we would feel a deeper sense of awe in relationship to all of our experiences, even the difficult ones. Knowing that no moment is meant to last. Realizing that no two moments in time can ever be the same, we may feel the inherent aliveness, the “freshness” of life, as it’s unfolding from moment to moment. A deeper sense of gratitude may start to grow, as we see that because nothing is meant to last, each moment, each breath, each encounter with another being, is a precious event, that will never arise again in exactly the same way.
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