Impermanence and Letting Go
Humans are arrogant. On a macro level, we think that the skyscrapers we build will stand as long as the mountains that came millions of years before us. I’ll be the first to say that it’s truly amazing what we’ve accomplished in even the last 100 years. But that will eventually crumble into dust, just as the mountains will somewhere down the road.
We tend to take a similar stance as individuals, moving down the path of life. Whether it’s a job, a relationship or a legacy, we tend to expect things to last forever. But nothing is permanent. If everything that man has built is destined to be swept away into cosmic dust in the long, long future, how can we expect things we’ve built as individuals to fare any better?
Wow, Seth has hit a really dark, nihilistic note, hasn’t he? Nope! This is all on Buddhism!
The Illusion of Being Finished
Well, that’s a tricky distinction. Despite the stereotypical hippy dippy, end-all-human-suffering aspect of Buddhism, there is a surprisingly huge amount of nihilism involved. That probably has something do with why I gravitate so strongly towards Buddhism out of all the other world religions, if only to apply it to my life practically.
I struggle with hedging my happiness on my productivity, what I can accomplish and how good it is. It’s not the first time I’ve written about it. It’s a potential employer’s dream! I’m a perfectionist that can’t stand having idle hands. However, it’s not such a great quality for an individual’s wellbeing.
You see, I like putting milestones in front of me that eventually become mirages. I tell myself that once I reach them, I’ll be finished, happy and can finally have some well-deserved relaxation. Except, one can never reach that point. On our journey to whatever goal we’ve set in front of ourselves, new goals will naturally form along the way. Therefore, thinking you could ever just be “done” and fulfilled at any single point in time is not going to impact your happiness in a positive way.
Buddhism refers to this idea - that we shouldn’t let a future goal or even our current state of being influence our happiness - as impermanence.
The Concept of Impermanence
Impermanence encompasses five processes that humans cannot change: growing old, getting ill, dying, decay of perishable things and general passing away of things that are liable to pass. The Buddha himself said that, “Decay is inherent in all things.” So, yeah, sorry guys. Nothing you do really matters in the grand scheme of things.
I’m joking, of course, and don’t actually believe that. The main point of impermanence is that life is not the nice, flowing, continuous river that we visualize it to be. Everything is in flux and subject to change, maybe over a period of years, maybe in a split second.
For example, maybe you spend 4 years studying computer science, assuming that finally holding that degree in your hand is going to make you complete. Little did you know, that law class you needed to take to complete your minor swept you right off your feet and now you want to be a lawyer. You changed, so your goal changed.
We can take this to a dark place, too. You have an amazing job that you love waking up for, a great relationship with your significant other and are overall in a good place in your life. Then you get the phone call that everyone dreads: your father or some other close relative has suddenly passed away. The happiness you assumed was so steadfast is now completely dashed away in a matter of seconds. Impermanence.
So far I've made this idea of impermanence out to be a really shitty thing, but it's not really that at all, nor is it good. It is simply a neutral force that we are all subject to. The key to most good things in life is accepting it and obeying its command to live for the moment and not for an idea of how you want things to be. This is one of the hardest things for me to do and every day I try to work at it. But I believe that this is what people need to do if they truly want to be happy in the 80 or so years that we're not even guaranteed to have.
It's a fucking miracle and gift from the universe that out of infinite possibilities, you get to exist as a higher consciousness. Live in each moment and appreciate everything around you as best you can. Don't live for the future when the outcome you want or expect is not guaranteed and always subject to change. Enjoy the work you put in towards a goal rather than becoming a slave to it.
Mindfulness is a great way to do this. There is a huge difference between shoveling food into your mouth as a fuel source and consciously enjoying the taste, texture and atmosphere of a meal. Walking to work in robot mode is not the same as being aware of what's around you and soaking in your environment, acknowledging all of the little processes going on around you. Be here now and enjoy yourself; the future will get here eventually.