Thursday, July 02, 2009

Impermanence and the Nature of Change

I ran across a Buddhist Web site tonight that had a link in the navigation bar called Impermanence. When I clicked it, the screen said simply (on a white background) This page sometimes links to pages that no longer exist.

That is, of course the nature of impermanence. It is so easy to think that in order for a thing to be real and true, it must be solid, steady, reliable, the same from day to day, month to month, year to year. We crave stability, definition. We want reliable, dependable. Who doesn't want something, anything to count on? I know I do. Something to anchor me. A way to know I'm navigating in a familiar world. These seem like reasonable desires for sane, rational living.

Except. There's a lot of give and ambiguity within that rational boundary. Change is constant, everywhere, always. Your house is not the same place it was yesterday. Oh sure, the walls are there, the furniture may be in the same place, the carpet is the same color. But things are different. Objects have been moved. Dishes have been used; food eaten. Air is continually circulating. Dust has accumulated since yesterday. The cat threw up on the rug upstairs. Change happens.

Today you are a different you than you were yesterday. Your cells are 24 hours older. Your hair curls in a new way. You wore green instead of brown. You overheard a bit of conversation at the coffeeshop and it changed the way you were thinking about a story you heard on NPR. Maybe you'll go home and look it up online and find out more. Your ideas are new; your plans are new; you are a growing, learning, reaching, blossoming being.

Your relationships are in flux. You feel closer to some people than you felt this time last year. You feel more distant from others. Some new friends have arrived in your life; others have disappeared completely. The same for virtues and vices, cravings and projects. They come and go. They begin, you schlog through, and they end. Each one touches you, challenges you, changes you, expands you. Perhaps even constricts you. That part is your choice.

Sometimes it's hard to see--especially in pitching times like these--that the outer world is doing us a favor when it reminds us that it is not as solid and sure as we wish it were. What are we tethering our security to? If it's something fleeting, something that is always changing, sooner or later it will show us its impermanence. The stock market, the new car, the value of the house, the retirement fund, the 20-year marriage, the promise of the big scheme, all could manifest change suddenly so that you can see the nature, the essence of the experience is movement, growth, change. The shifts may be up or down, good or bad, for better or for worse, but what we're really seeing is the reality of each item--impermanent. Movement. Change.

So is there anything beneath all this impermanence that does offer the sense of constancy we seek? I think there is. To me, it's the nature of Life itself, arising, expressing, loving, moving, manifesting. I believe it can be trusted and that there is a harmony arising--even in the midst of a struggling (but now recovering) stock market. The gift to us is in realizing that it is the nature of all created things to manifest continual change and showcase its own movement, its impermanence. Being able to see this and walk happily between the waves of change is both an amazing life-long challenge and an incredible blessing that becomes such a strong core that the rest of our inner life stabilizes around it. :)


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