Like a Flash of Lightning in the Sky

As the seasons slowly change, it seems opportune to reflect on impermanence.

Although we all know that life is impermanent, most of us function like this body and brain are immortal.

When, out of the blue, impermanence strongly touches our life, we are often overcome by shock and fear.  But it usually doesn’t last long.  Swiftly, we return to our illusion of permanence.

Ironically, there are many benefits to remembering and befriending impermanence as a daily reflection.

Recalling the transient nature of this existence can:

  • help us get our priorities straight;
  • remind us to celebrate each precious moment;
  • be an impetus to use our time wisely;
  • unlock love and compassion from our heart;
  • motivate us to examine the nature of reality and seek that which is true and unchanging.

Gradually and gently, we can make peace with the mortality of this body and come to know the unending, deathless nature of mind.

Reflections on impermanence

Here are two of my most treasured quotations on impermanence for our Sunday reflection.

“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.

To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.

A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky.

Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.”

-the Buddha

“The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow.  The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute.  What bitterness!  He lives for what is always out of reach.  His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.”

-Chuang Tzu

How do you relate to the idea of impermanence?  Do you find reflecting on impermanence beneficial?

If you enjoyed this article, please share the link with your others.  Thanks so much! Sandra

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Sandra, just wanted to say I have recently read a few books and watched a film that reiterate what you are saying here and think I was supposed to hear this from you.

    The first book was the Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillebeau – he speaks of leaving a legacy in the world (knowing we are impermanent leads us to reflect on what we are doing in life, when we do this we think an act from a different perspective and therefore work toward leaving a legacy).

    The second book (eBook), I have literally just finished, is ‘The Buddha Blueprint’ from Nadia Ballas-Ruta in which she speaks about the Buddhist way – The four noble truths and the eightfold path which helps us lead a life of permanent impermanence.

    The film I watched last night with my family was a beautiful film called ‘Into The Wild’ – The story of Christopher McCandless, an adventurer who gave away all his money and lived off the land and touched several people along his journey.

    Then I saw your tweet about this and felt compelled to leave a comment. Thank you for re-enforcing the silent messages I have been getting over the last few weeks.

    • says

      Steven ~ I love when synchronicity comes clearly into play!

      It’s wonderful to have these “mini-reviews” of Chris and Nadia’s books. They are both special people and I hope many people have the good fortunate to read their books. Reflecting on one’s legacy is an extra added benefit to reflecting on impermanence. Thanks for adding it to the list.

      I haven’t seen the film you speak of – it’s sounds exactly like the kind of film that would resonate for me. Thanks for mentioning it.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing the synchronicity with us!

  2. says

    Sandra,
    Daily reflection upon this – such a good place to really let this idea of our impermanence soak into the soul. I have recently began meditating each morning. From that, I just feel as though I have a stronger sense of this within me. Not that I’ve got this down, but I do believe I am more aware of this than before. And in that – the moments – they have become more meaningful to me.

    Love these words you have shared here today….

    • says

      Congratulations on starting to meditate each morning. That’s a wonderful accomplishment. I love the perspective you share here – naturally, we may not have fully realized impermanence but the little glimpse we receive enrich our life and make us better human beings.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. says

    Hi Sandra,

    Interesting, my girlfriend and I had a series of discussions on the topic of impermanence yesterday.

    I find meditating on the topic of impermanence helpful. I set aside 30 minutes in morning and evening to sit and sometimes choose the topic of change, of flux to meditate on. I also take breaks each hour to meditate for 5-10 minutes. The certainty of life is uncertainty.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight. Have a great day :)

    Ryan

    • says

      Hello Ryan,

      I love the synchronicity bringing people to this post. I very much appreciate hearing how you reflect on change and impermanence, discuss it with your girlfriend, and feel it enriches your life.

      It’s so skillful to integrate meditation throughout your day! This is often recommended by teachers in my tradition: many short sessions, many times a day.

      Thanks for sharing your insights. All the best to you!

  4. says

    Hi Sandra,

    I feel I do this however can we ever to it completely or all of the time? Is it possible?

    All my friends over 70 talk about how fast the last 20 years of their lives went…a flash. Would it not seem like that if they had embraced impermanence?

    I think my blog is part of my legacy. My thoughts and ideas are stored here for anyone, family member or not if they wanted to find out more about me. If Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King had blogs…can you imagine?

    These are a few of my rambling thoughts. Hope they make sense!

    • says

      Hi Tess,

      This is a good question, Tess. I’m sure there are great beings who do realize impermanence completely. For example, I’m always amazed how at the end of a public talk or teaching someone like the Dalai Lama just says “good-bye” so simply and seems to move on so easily without looking back. For myself, a beginner on the path, I find that embracing impermanence is a lifelong journey, letting the layers of grasping onto permanence gradually peel away. It’s not necessarily easy, but I find it very fruitful and try to make it a part of my daily practice inspired by quotations like these.

      Your blog is a wonderful gift to the world and it’s inspiring to know it will continue on bringing happiness, joy, and encouragement to others. The Zen Center has created a blog where they post a teaching each day from the great Zen master, Suzuki Roishi. How wonderful if the same idea was applied to the words and teachings of great peacemakers like Mother Teres and Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s a terrific idea!

  5. says

    I live in New England, and while driving home several days ago, I noticed that the trees had begun to change dramatically from green to red. Before me was a beautiful multicolored patchwork, and I found it breathtaking.

    Reflecting on this, I re-affirmed the importance of fully appreciating where you are, who you are with, and what you can do there. This was one of my greatest lessons upon graduating from college last May, as well. During that transition, it was clear how much more love and wonder I might have experienced had I reached out to other people earlier and more boldly. Lesson learned.

    I am also reminded of the Alan Watts quote:
    “When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best…. exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment

    Perfect timing on this post, Sandra.

    • says

      Travis,

      You inspire me so much. It fills me with joy to see a young person so dedicated to all the riches of inner exploration.

      Thank you for the beautiful description of the leaves turning colors and the insight it brought to you about being fully in the present moment.

      This is an outstanding quote from Alan Watts. Thank you for this special gift. :)

  6. says

    Dearest Sandra,

    I did a talk yesterday about my book, and was thrilled when one man brought up the topic of fear, and then another brought up the topic of death. And THEN the topic of how to overcome the fear of death so that one never thought about it.

    I said, I thought there was a difference between a fear of death and an awareness of the reality of death, AND that I choose to embrace the reality of death because it is my impetus to fully live, REALLY live as much as I possibly can. It invites me to ask every day, “Am I doing what I need to be doing? Is there anywhere I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel? Sometimes we fear death simply because we are not fully living in the way our beautiful hearts are calling us to live. Or we are not doing the things that we know will bring us healthy, joyous life.

    Then I saw Steven Aitchson’s comment about “Into the Wild”. I read the book and totally related to it. I felt I knew him and felt his soul all around me while I read. And yet, I know many thought Chris was acting irresponsibly, and that he was not fair to his parents, friends, family, and society. I was given that same “riot act” at various times when I went into, and was in, the bush (and I also understand this). Wondrously, it was my own mother who years later stood before me with beautiful tears in her eyes, and held my face in her hands, and said, “Although I missed you terribly, and sometimes didn’t even know where you were or if you were alive, I am so glad you went. It has changed you. You are not even the same person who went into the forest. You are your OWN person now. It has healed you, and that healing is now healing me.” I think I need to do a post about this. :)

    I often think of Chris and feel very connected to his beautiful spirit. Sometimes, for some of us, we have to totally break with convention and all we’ve known to be able to see who we really are and what is possible beyond this more conventional paradigm.

    Thank you for inviting honest sharing here. You bring people out of themselves and it is so beautiful to see. I am deeply gratiful for who you are. Robin

    • says

      Dear Robin,

      What you’ve shared here about your talk and your thoughts on being afraid of death is so special. Thank you, Robin! Reading your book, I was amazed by how you confronted your fears head-on in the rainforest. I have so much to learn from you when it comes to fear!

      Now that you mention it, I recall that I did read “Into the Wild” several years ago. It was a very interesting story. One thing you can say about Chris for certain is that he followed his personal vision and values – far more than most of us ever will. I’m sure he found peace and joy in that. While it might be tempting to judge when someone seems to die an unnecessary and premature death, we can never know what their true lifespan was intended to be. He may have in fact accomplish the true purpose of his lifetime even in his short years. You and Ian seemed to have been blessed with some sacred protection given some of the wild experiences you had!

      Your mother’s love and insight is so incredible and profound. Yes, please do write a post about that some time! :)

      Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us.

  7. says

    Wow..your post is amazing..the comments are equally amazing..
    I learned impermanence through the experience of raising my two young ones as a single mom on our boat..Because my children attend school, we have lived in the same marina for the last 4 years..However, boating is quite a transient lifestyle, so neighbors come and go..At first, I held fast to my belief that I don’t like to “lose” people, so was hesitant to make heart connections..I greatly enjoy connecting though, so decided to experience the people as they were brought into our life..we learn so much..and then they leave..and quite frankly, soon someone else with another gift to share occupies their slip…I’ve learned to say a heartfelt hello and an appreciative goodbye..which then touches all areas of my life..I’ve learned to live in this moment and experience it fully as it is presented, knowing just as Energy passes through my self, so does Life..

    • says

      This is a beautiful story, Joy. I am so happy to hear how you have learned to enjoy these regular people changes in your life. It’s incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Thank you for telling us about it.

      I feel so blessed by all the remarkable comments on this series of Sunday reflections. I’ve connected with many new and wonderful people – like you – and have also enjoyed the extraordinary comments left by ongoing friends. It’s been very special for me.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment joy. I popped over to your blog, which is so nice. Thank you for all the joy and light you bring to this world.

  8. says

    When I was younger I had a static view of life … win the lottery, then set for life … live happily ever after … etc.

    Eventually, I learned to think in terms of a flowing system of ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and cycles of change. That’s when I started to focus more on the journey AND the destination. The journey has to be sustainable.

    • says

      J. D.

      I really like your description of a “flowing system of ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and cycles of change.” It’s also great wisdom to balance the journey and the destination. Thanks for these insights.

  9. says

    Hi Sandra
    A super post tinged with sadness but oh so true.
    Guess we all think now and then about our three score and ten but then we move on and dismiss it from our thoughts.

    Love your list of positives that we can take from thinking about the finite time we all have.
    Particularly like…

    “remind us to celebrate each precious moment”

    Perhaps Woody Allen was right when he said….

    “I don’t want to be remembered for the good things I did in my life… I want to be remembered for not dying” LOL

    • says

      Hello Keith,

      Love the Woody Allen joke! Thanks for that. Yes, as the saying goes, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” I think we can gradually learn to look at it differently, but it’s a lifelong learning process in my eyes.

      I definitely need to do some reading on your blog – public speaking terrifies me. Glad to see you make it easy!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. says

    Hi Sandra! Impermanence is something that I always try to remind myself of. Like the saying goes: “the only thing we can be sure of is that everything changes.”

    Reflecting on impermanence helps me not take things too seriously. When I realize right in this moment, everything, and everyone is already changing before my eyes, I can’t but laugh at my seriousness.

    I loved your quotes. I specially enjoyed reflecting on the changing nature of things. Loving blessings!

  11. Gautam Kumaran says

    Sandra,

    Thank you for a wise and beautiful post.

    I like the word “reflecting” on impermanence – it’s not something one “reacts” to, ideally speaking. Sometimes I get into the trap of anticipating impermanence and little do I realize that impermanence lies beyond any mental strategies to prepare for it…yes, awareness helps, but impermanence is a truth that will teach me what it has to however much I may try to pretend to look the other way…

    Is it something I should be resisting, really? The impermanence of my thoughts and emotions is perhaps a great clue…imagine being stuck with the same thought or emotion…what a relief that they actually arise and fade away..else one would miss out on so much variety. So it is I imagine with life at large…my mind is by and large a seeker of daily entertainment, and life in its compassion obliges with impermanence…

    A Vedic prayer says…”all this was created by desire, not created by me…” and seeks forgiveness in the light of that deep understanding. One can contemplate how karmic tendencies create the dance of impermanence, whereas at the level of our true and free nature, there is a inner refuge and stability beyond concepts of permanence and impermanence…and we may one day even get to smile as the Buddha smiles

    love and namaste
    Gautam

    • says

      Welcome Gautam!

      This is so beautifully expressed. There is so much wisdom in your words. And you really made me smile a few times too! For example: “imagine being stuck with the same thought or emotion.” As much as we resist impermanence, it’s holds so many lessons for us.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an inspiring and thoughtful comment. All the best to you!

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