When I look at the past year of my life, more so the past nine months, I see a beautiful shift. Things that used to sit me in a seat of suffering no longer have any power over my life. I see my choice in life clearly and illuminated is my choice to accept that life goes on. It’s something that I have always known, and slightly implemented, but now I realise that I never truly accepted it until I began living aligned with impermanence. However, for most of the time that I have been living in this shift, I wasn’t aware that impermanence had a name.
Impermanence is one of the natural laws that Buddha taught. It makes clear the truth that everything is impermanent because things never stop changing throughout life. We are born with impermanence and continue with it until the end of our continuation – if there even is an end.
When we do not understand the impermanence of life, we become susceptible to suffering through the things that we call losses and the things that we call hardships. But it isn’t the impermanence that hurts us, it’s the fact that we do not accept it. By not accepting it, we attach ourselves to things that we should never attach ourselves. We attach ourselves to the impermanent ; and we do it for pleasure. Momentary pleasure, however, as when our detachment process is forced, we enter into suffering.
Attachments can be as simple, and minuscule, as trying to savour your favourite drink because it was the last one in the store, or as intense as trying to hold onto relationships that have long passed their course. Attachment is also very evident in the way many of us grieve with so much resistance. For some reason, it is so hard for us to accept the fact that death is a continuation that takes our love one into a new chapter, because that new chapter no longer physically aligns with ours.
Many of us are confused, easily so, due to the fact that some things continue in front of our eyes. We see this as permanence, as forever, but it is not. For example, when our parents are still alive, we forget that our relationship with them has been impermanent until they transition. However, the parent we had when we were born was not the parent we had at five years old, nor was it the parent we had at 10 years old. Same with longterm relationships, we so often forget that our relationship has been impermanent until it ends. But, the partner we had three months into the relationship was not the partner we had four years in. The vessel of these people, and their roles in our lives, may have been recognisable throughout, but they were changing constantly – because nothing ever stays the same.
Our relationships are always impermanent, but sometimes we get attached to the point that we fall apart when impermanence reminds us of its presence with things as natural as change.
To accept this, we must learn to detach, which can initially lead us to question who we are; until we shift our outlook on life. For myself, I started to see where my attachments were in many areas one I chose to be aware. I saw it when my weight fluctuated due to medication and my confidence went along with it. I gained three dress sizes whilst unwell, and I couldn’t look at myself without feeling like I was staring at a stranger. I had attached myself so much to being skinny that when I wasn’t I felt incomplete. And it wasn’t until I remembered that things wouldn’t last forever, and chose to embrace that, that my weight started to fall off.
It was the same with the sickness that caused me to take medication in the first place. Without what I deemed as a sound mind; I questioned my place in the world. My ability to be knowledgeable, inspirational, and creative was something I found pride in. But with impaired brain function I felt lost. That was until one day I started questioning: “Who am I without connection to anyone, or anything, else?” It is that question that opened me up to accepting the truest thing I’ve ever accept in life: impermanence.
When we learn to live with impermanence, we allow ourselves to find more joy in life, overall. We allow ourselves to be more grateful for the present moments, and to enjoy things for what they are, as they are. We learn not to hold on to things to the point that we try to force their continuations in our physical lives. We accept that everything in life will change, and that our experiences are simply moments to be experienced. Whether joyous or unpleasant, each moment will pass, because life is not meant to be stagnant or attached at all. It is meant to flow.
So live your life and let it flow.
By being very mindful of the fact that everything changes, we will find more ease in being centred in the present moment; and to be compassionately aware that we may meet different attachments as the moment changes. However, this is nothing to be ashamed of, or feel belittled by. The purpose is not to eliminate everything all at once, it is to implement a practice into life that can carry you through each moment with ease.
Just as life takes time, so does healing, learning, and unlearning. Compassion through it all is a must.
Learning impermanence helped me with so many things, especially grief. I used to live with a huge fear of death, but now I see death so differently. I’ve accepted it as a continuation which allows me to be completely grateful for every beautiful moment – and grateful for the fact that the tough moments will not last. It also helped me a lot with unprepared trials in all aspects of life: from health to family and friendship’s. I used to want to prepare for everything, and although still organisation for things is key to me, my acceptance of the shifts is now graceful.
At first, I wondered if I didn’t care enough because I didn’t feel deep suffering for things that used to weigh me down. The obstacles in more recent months would be expected to be more challenging in comparison to things I’ve experienced before, yet I haven’t felt any of the weight that I did in the past. Instead, I’ve felt an overwhelm of ease. I realised that this is part of the parcel.
When you come from having such deep attachments to everything, detaching yourself will feel abnormal. Remember through these moments that we are not aiming for normal, we are aiming for natural.
Natural does not attach – especially not to suffering.
Now I can say that I no longer suffer. I found it hard to say that at first, because I was still attached to the idea of who people expected me to be. Those who I bonded with through trauma and the shared normality of suffering started to feel uncomfortable by my growth and showed it in ways that would’ve floored me in the past. Yet today, not only am I far from being floored, I’m on the top floor, as Imani Cohen would say.
Some of us must make a possibility a reality before others believe it. If ever you feel torn between growing, or going backwards, you may be one of us who needs to be the example. Grow forward. It isn’t personal to any person or situation, it’s just the natural way of life that we all deserve to return to.
Thích Nhất Hạnh said, whilst talking about teaching impermanence to children: “A cloud can never die… The cloud can only be transformed into the rain or into the snow. And if you hold your glass and drink your tea, you can see that you are drinking clouds. And if you look into a river, you see nothing but cloud.” This is life.
Life is precious, and it’s worth enjoying. Yet through attachment we miss so many of the best moments. And some of us excuse this by holding onto the morbid half-truth that says: “The only thing promised in life is death”. The only thing promised in life is continuation. Even in death there is continuation. And that promise is beautiful.
So, the next time you find yourself at resistance with impermanence, ask yourself this: Without impermanence, how would I grow?
I love you, and I honour the divine in you.
Love and light, Liss x