Monday, April 14, 2014

We're All Gonna Die: The Permanence of Impermanence

“Eventually, everything goes away.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
As I look out the window at the purple-grey clouds rushing by and listen to the pounding rain on the roof, I can't help but recall that yesterday it was nearly 80 degrees and blissfully sunny, a picture-perfect day. Now, with spring storms announcing their arrival in thunderclaps and snow looming in the forecast, what we enjoyed over this weekend seems part of the much more distant past than it actually is. After our rude, rough winter, I long to be outdoors, barefoot in the grass, but it seems, as usual, that the universe has other plans. Now matter how much I long for it, summer will come in its own time and, just as quickly give way to autumn.

As irritating and unpredictable as the weather here in northeast Ohio can be, watching its ebb and flow is a koan of sorts to me, a perfect reminder of the futility of longing for or grasping after anything other than what is here now. When all I can think of are flip flops, sometimes I am gifted with puddles. It isn't the puddles themselves that disappoint me; it's the notion that I didn't get what I expected or desired, that there are things about this life that are utterly beyond my control.

There's a lot about life we wish we could control. More than a few of  us spend a good portion of our early years in adulthood trying to gather the right tools in the form of education and experience. We strive to get the right job, wear the right clothes, weigh the right amount, marry the right person.... It's almost as if we are following a formula and, just as long as all of our "ducks are in a row" and as long as we "play the right cards", we should enjoy some measure of success. Some of us will cling so fervently to this goal that we'll do anything in our power to make it happen. We might do things we aren't proud of and often beat ourselves up for what we perceive as less-than-stellar progress towards this ever-elusive end game. We become blind, caught up in the day-to-day struggle to make this all happen that really living seems to fall away. We obsess over what we can fix and improve while we strive after and long for success. We might even catch that success for a while but then, often suddenly and without warning, it's gone.  Regardless of how hard we worked, how much we saved or how bad we wanted it, things go away. Shit just happens. People die. Lovers leave. Money disappears. And no matter how hard we try, things will never be the same. And that's just how life is.

When I take time to sit and watch the weather, it sometimes pisses me off how much it changes and how the nice days never seem to coincide with my days off. Then I'm reminded by the shifting clouds that almost all of my frustration and anger comes from clinging to an expectation that things will be as I'd like them to be or that they won't eventually change. I've discovered that you can grasp at anything- everything- with clutching hands, but, just like sand, the things that you wish to stay the same will forever slip through your fingers. If you keep expecting to have control, you will be continually disappointed. Nothing is ever certain in life. There are no guarantees save for change and death, and we're all gonna die.

The reality is that the only thing that's permanent is impermanence. Everything must grow, change, and pass away. Although it kind of sounds horribly depressing to think that all you have worked for might end up being for naught, there's a great sense of hope and possibility from waking up to the fact that, as Kansas put it, "nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky". Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh explains so completely how important change and impermanence really are to bring about positive things:
"Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat. If your daughter is not impermanent, she cannot grow up to become a woman. Then your grandchildren would never manifest."
Because everything goes away, it's important that we stop rushing, that we take the time to experience life and be grateful for it, just as it is in THIS moment, no matter how that fits with our expectations of how things should be or should look. When we open ourselves to what's going on RIGHT NOW and realize that things will, quite literally, never be the same again as they are IN THIS MOMENT, we live just a bit more alive. We feel a little more deeply. Things taste sweeter. We are more appreciative for how amazing and wonderful and incredible life really is. We are more fully US.
"Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things." – Pema Chodron
Waking up to impermanence also helps me appreciate other people too, for, after all, we are all made of the same stardust. Being human, we all share the same hope and longing, and we all get frustrated when things fall apart and don't meet our expectations. We all bleed the same, laugh the same and cry the same. We are all connected.
Everything's gonna change. Of that you can be sure. What matters most is that we each wake up and realize that, although we can't control the change or stop it from happening, we CAN control how we experience it. So embrace change. Enjoy it. After all, we're all gonna die. So let's all say fuck it and start stomping in life's puddles even if we are still wearing flip flops. Let's really live and, as Thoreau put it, "suck the marrow out of life."