Impermanence means change: things that are affected by causes and conditions never remain static, they change from moment to moment. Some things, once they’re made, slowly degenerate and fall apart until they come to an end, like your computer, your car or your body. Other things change from moment to moment, but because they’re always renewed, they don’t wear out, like your basic mental activity whether as a baby, an active adult or a geriatric patient with Alzheimer’s. Some things go up and down, like the temperature or the quality of your meditation; while others, like the people on an airplane, gather and part. Some things go through repeated cycles, like the seasons or the cycle of day and night, while others repeatedly arise, endure and come to an end, like universes according to the Buddhist view. There are many different types of impermanence.
Unfortunately, because our minds don’t perceive stretches of time all at once in one moment, we become confused and sometimes think that things remains static and will never change, like our relationships, our youth, our mood, and so on. When we think like that, we create unhappiness and problems for ourselves. For instance, we are in a loving relationship with someone. It arose because of certain causes and circumstances – both of us were at the same place, both of us were looking for a partner, both of us had certain other things going on in our lives. But, over time, those conditions changed. If we hold on to the type of relationship we had at the start and in the early stages, we are unable to adjust our relationship when our partner changes jobs, or moves to another city, or has a visitor, or makes new friends, or when something similar happens in our life. We cling to the way our relationship was before and because that is out of touch with reality, we suffer and are unhappy.
For our meditation, let’s focus on various things in our life that are subject to impermanence and try to focus on them with a realization that they have changed and will continue to change as time passes, and eventually will come to an end.
- Calm down by focusing on the breath.
- Focus on your relationship with your mother.
- Note how it began – you were an infant and that affected your relationship in a certain way.
- Then you and your mother got older and, as you were a child, a teenager and then an adult, and she aged, your relationship changed – or did it?
- Even when she dies or if she has already died, although your interactive relationship has come to an end, note how your attitude and memory of her changes and continues to change.
- Focus on your relationship with your father in the same way.
- Focus on your relationship with a partner that you love or have loved very much.
- Focus on your professional life.
Impermanence is a fact of life. Whether we like it or not, everything changes all the time, and nothing remains the same forever. When we accept this reality, we realize that it is futile to cling to anything as if it will always remain the same. When we are able to adjust to the changes that inevitably occur in our situations in life, our relationships, our body and so on, we avoid a great deal of unhappiness and problems that we might otherwise have.