It seems strange to talk about impermanence in the springtime. Springtime feels like a beginning, not an end but impermanence isn’t about endings – it’s about adding to our sense of appreciation of life as it unfolds. The real trouble is we resist this fact of nature and cling to a fixed view that things are permanent when they are not. Things are always changing: our relationships, our bodies, the weather, our health, what we eat, who we know, where we go, how we feel.
Every moment is different. Some are pleasing, irritating, colourful, tiring, satisfying, but they all pass away to the next moment in a continuum of unceasing change. Excitement ends and monotony begins, pain ends and laughter begins, a dream ends and a new day begins, but really there are no beginnings or endings, only an uninterrupted flow of experience.
Who is experiencing? Who is learning? Who is laughing? Who is reading?
In the springtime flowers bloom. The flora comes alive after a long winter and we delight in its beauty. The scent is intoxicating, the shapes attractive. We appreciate a flower when we see it just as it is. We don’t hope it will be different and neither are we troubled that it will not last. We can see the flower came from a bud, and that when it withers it rejoins the soil. Later the flower will be part of something else: you, a bird, the rain, a road, a tree, and round and round it goes, becoming other things all the time. It becomes hard to pinpoint when things are just one thing at all, because they change so fast. Impermanence is like that. It is everywhere and active, and the more we realise it the more appreciative of each moment, and of our lives, we can be.
Who we are is not fixed either, though we may strongly insist otherwise. Our bodies change whether we like it or not, and we change as well. We like to say our personalities change, but that implies something that does not change possesses our personalities, which makes no sense. Nothing is immutable. Where is the person who was a child? Where is the teenager we once were? Who are we now and who will we be in the future? We may harden or soften, slow down, burn out, learn or unlearn. It is a mystery what we will become. We don’t know what it will feel like to be different than we are today. We will change and we have the central role to play in that change. How we respond to impermanence is our choice.
Nations, mountains, rivers, deserts and species are impermanent. Empires have risen and fallen. Modern humans didn’t appear until around 200,000 years ago and in the last hundred years we doubled our average lifespan but also severely exploited the resources of the planet. War, famine and epidemics have made routine appearances in our history but we act as if our actions don’t have a collective effect. Impermanence often strongly reminds us otherwise.
It is said that nihilism is a ‘near enemy’ of impermanence, a trap one can easily fall into, but just because everything is impermanent doesn’t mean that nothing exists at all or that life has no meaning. The impermanent nature of reality adds meaning to our lives because this is something we all share. Everything we have will go, no matter how we try to control things or how rich we are. Our children are impermanent and their children too but this makes them and the world they inherit more precious, not less. Our world is impermanent and our lives are impermanent – doesn’t that make our time together more sacred?