Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

A Rally Against Impermanence

yellow-candle-flowers

“One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty in facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence.

In our minds, changes always equal loss and suffering. And if they come, we try to anesthetize ourselves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestioningly, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But in fact impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life—difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquaintance far friendlier and less unnerving than we could have imagined.”

  – Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse After Glimpse

Do you ever want to hide from impermanence, and pretend it doesn’t exist?  At times, I struggle with impermanence too.  In fact, right now, I want to rally against it as though my adamant refusal to accept change could single-handedly dam up the flow of this inescapable truth.

You see, I have been struck by the deep sorrow of separation.  Although it’s not mine, a visceral pain tears up my heart as if it truly belonged to me.

All spiritual traditions teach us not to harm.  So, I wonder, why do we harm others by leaving them?  Isn’t all the suffering beings endure from the natural causes of impermanence – illness, death, disaster, and the like – enough already?

Then again, what is harm?  That’s not always so easy to discern when it comes to questions like staying or leaving.  How can I truly know or judge?

Honestly, I’m not a moralistic person.  I just cannot bear the agony of a family torn apart though I realize, in time, this too will transmute into yet another form.

I know! Sometimes separation is warranted.  But, other times, aren’t we just chasing the fulfillment of our perceived needs, which we imagine can be meet by another person or situation?  The newness may bring us joy – even ecstasy – at first.  But, once the shine wears off, chances are we’ll find ourselves running the same patterns, embroiled in discontent again.

So why do we leave those we love or have loved for someone new?  Why do we inflict this pain?

This rupture feels too strong to bear.  I impulsively clamp down on the surge of torment.  Am I overly empathic or has this separation triggered my own unconscious terror?  Clearly, I’m attached to the “happily-ever-after dream,” and feel nothing but aversion for that which causes sorrow.

The Buddha said suffering exists, and the suffering must be known.  Without seeing our suffering, there is no impetus to look for its cause:  destructive emotions (attachment, aversion, and ignorance being the primary three) and negative actions.  And, without understanding the causes of suffering, there is no possibility for change.

Although I’m averse to impermanence in this particular moment, I know the pain is not forever.  It too will change.  Laughter will be known again as the once unbearable heartbreak gradually fades day by day.  I understand that suffering’s job is to make us learn and grow, impermanence being one of its crafty tools.

I would never wish suffering on another.  But here it is.  Can I accept it with perspective and grace?  Who am I to try to take away someone’s suffering if that is what they need to grow?  How can I judge and know what’s right for another?

I must lean into the sorrow instead of moving away, allowing it to burn and burn until it reveals only love for all touched by this pain.

Impermanence, are you truly a friend?

How do you work with the sadness that comes about due to change?

I’m so glad you’re here! If you liked this article, please consider subscribing for free updates by email. With love, Sandra

 

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20 Comments

  1. jean sampson

    This is truly the struggle of my life, to embrace change. Even as a little kid, I would go around and take pictures of everyone and everything so I could have everything like it was then forever. I was SO aware that I was going to grow up (YUK) and everything would be different. Even at 7 and 8 I had the awareness of the sadness that change would bring. I think it might have been because my Grandmother, who lived with us, always had on some sort of religious program or another in which a preacher was always talking about death or horrible changes that would be coming onto the earth someday. It was NOT a happy picture and I think that might have influenced my thinking. But I was a kid who got attached to everything anyway, even to my desk at school! Everything had some sort of meaning to me and a place in my life. I really have not changed a lot although I have had to learn to let go. But I still do NOT like change and loss. Guess that will be a continuing lesson in Earth School for me.

    • Hi Jean,

      That’s so interesting about your Grandmother having those scary religious programs on all the time. We are so easily influenced at an early age and these influences shape our brain tracks. It can be hard to get off one of those tracks, but not impossible.

      The great thing is that you are aware of this instead of completely blind to it. Awareness already takes a little bit of a dent out of the negative impact. Well, it is Earth School, so what can be do but smile at our idiosyncrasies and keep moving forward!

  2. Hi Sandra, it’s been a while but I’m glad to be back!

    I’ve been through a lot of changes over the last few years. Someday, I could share with you a much longer story but I will just say for now that it has been the most faith-building-and-stretching experience of my life. Recently my wife and I decided to take the things we all blog about and create a new kind of experience about it. It sounds complicated but it’s very entrepreneurial in nature. It’s been some major changes for our family but it has brought us closer together as a family through it all.

    What I would say is that change can be the healthiest thing for us to go through if it allows us to grow. This makes it sound simple. I realize it’s not. Impermanence is very difficult to deal with because one of our human needs is security – at least for many of us. Impermanence definitely does not give us security, but if we can learn to trust that we belong to something bigger and to be grateful for our experiences, those changes WILL make us stronger people. Great post.

    • Bryan,

      So happy you are back. What an awesome dream you are actualizing! I think you are right. Change can be healthy! And, trust is the underlying key word in the process. Cultivating trust counters our fear and need for sameness.

      I’m so delighted for you. I wish you the best possible outcome for your new endeavor.

  3. It is grief and I am going through it now…trying to feel it and then move through it.

    • I’m sorry for you grief, Donna. I think you have a good approach – to simple be open to the emotions and allow them to move through. It takes time, but we can know we are not alone and be there for one another.

  4. Hmm. That’s a tough one. I think that a lot of attachment issues have to do with what kind of personality type you have. Feeling types (and INFJs, INFPs are particularly empathetic), will tend to become more sentimentally and emotionally attached to people and things, and have a much harder time of letting go. I’m an INTJ, so I tend to process everything analytically first, and this makes it easier for me to release both objects and relationships that don’t serve me anymore. Neither way is really right or wrong, it’s just a personal characteristic.

    More philosophically, though, I think that people are meant to come and go in our lives, to maximize the opportunity for learning lessons and developing our souls, which is what we came here to do in the first place, I think. So I try not to cling too tightly to anybody, either friend or lover, knowing that the only person whose presence I can be certain of in my own life is me. It’s really my responsibility to fulfill my own needs, and anyone else who does so should be a bonus, in a sense, but hopefully not a requirement.

    Of course it’s really hard to lose a loved one in any context, but we need to trust that the Universe has a plan to replace them with someone just as good, or maybe even better! And it always helps to ask, as specifically as possible. I wish your friend all the love and happiness in the world, and hopefully soon. 🙂

    • Jennifer,

      This is a good point about personality type. I believe I’m an INFJ now which, in part, accounts for this. I think it’s only human to feel sorrow, and the key is to know this will pass too and not get overly entangled with it. Wonderful you have that capability out of the door!

      I love your philosophical perspective! Having that larger perspective gives us so much more graciousness and spaciousness when it comes to change. I so appreciate that you’ve shared this wisdom here.

  5. Deep thoughtful writing Sandra thank you
    I love change- or I think i do- with change comes clarity even focus and and completions.
    impermanence is not a word i use or even think about , i believe with change comes new found energy new perspectives and i have experienced in the last week an amazing shift in a family member who through health issues is finally seeing that change is possible and that her life cam be so much more fulfilling.
    Sorry think i went off track there- you got we musing
    love Suzie

    • Hi Suzie,

      I don’t think your off track! It’s invigorating to hear you say you love change. I see you have a positive association with the word “change” rather than impermanence. Just by putting a different spin on it all, it starts to change how we see it and can even begin to feel energetic and fun. Thanks for this perspective.

  6. Sandra,

    Even though we know that we become stronger by going through change, experiencing agony, and facing impermanence, none of us seek it. We know,
    of course, that none of us will be spared.

    Just as I was beginning to write the 2nd edition of my book on happiness, for example, I was hit with a suffering that I wasn’t sure I could bear. I asked the Universe why this had to happen while I’m writing this particular book. It seems unfair.

    The answer is that my suffering is a gift. Anyone can write about happiness when things are going great and flowing smoothly. But what about when the inevitable upset or adversity strikes? It’s how I handle suffering that is the message my readers long to and need to hear, for they will need this in their lives.

    How I get through suffering is more intricate than just putting on a happy face. I don’t want to mask it, live in denial or seek comfort through food and alcohol so I let myself feel it. I cry when I feel like it, get support from friends, pray, and will soon start a meditation program. It also helps me to read what others have done when they’ve suffered death, depression, terminally ill loved ones and the like.

    Each day I get a little different perspective, but what helps me most is to let myself lean into it. There’s a saying that the best way to get over is to go through.

    I’m comforted by the belief that I will get through it, and since I love to share what I learn I know I will be able to help others.

    • This is such a profound point, Flora! How it’s easy to write about happiness when we are happy and more challenging when we are undergoing suffering; and, how it’s all about how you handle the suffering. You are such an inspiration.! I’m fully with you and it’s only by leaning into the suffering that we get through and are able to help others. Thank you!

  7. Hi Sandra – Sorry to hear about the separation that you mentioned and the challenges the people who you know are experiencing. I have 2 thoughts here and this is from someone who really hates, ok hated, change. I think the change that I’ve had the last couple years has taught me that we can get through impermanence and change and come out stronger. And I think the more of it we have and the more impermanence we experience, the better we are able to handle it. So as painful as impermanence may be, the more we get thrown at us, the more resilient we become. And some might call that resilience or ability to survive massive changes resilience or maybe even inner strength. Maybe even wisdom:)

    And the second point is that I see life as a spiritual journey. All of our life events helps us progress, grow and become the more authentic people we can be. And to reach the river of authenticity, we have to go through the streams (and tears) of vulnerability. Only when we get unmasked can we come to terms with our real nature. These challenging life events helps us progress on this journey.

    • Beautifully said, Vishnu! And, I know this truly comes from the depth of your own experience and the struggles that you’ve had with change. I agree with you fully and I think it’s incredible important to build this resilience. So although a part of me resists, I’m with you on the exact same journey too.

      I also agree that all of life is a spiritual journey and so true how we have to wade through all those stream of vulnerability.

      Thank you for your warm heart!

  8. dale

    Thank you , I loved this one. In most ways we strive for a sort of permanence, running from all of the changes that slap us in the face .

    • Thank you, Dale. I appreciate knowing this one touched you. I find that coming to terms with impermanence is a journey. We’re all human and it’s a process to fully realize and accept such a deep level of truth that is so counter to how we’ve functioned all our life. Be well!

  9. This July was a a very rough month for me, Sandra. It began with breaking a tooth and and that led to needing crowns on not one but two teeth. No sooner than the temporary crowns were on and the first kidney stone episode began.

    The first anniversary of deaths is so hard and when the death is a premature one as my brother’s was a year ago it’s emotionally painful. I loved my brother dearly and still miss him so much.

    This July I had both physical and emotional pain to remind me of impermanence – nothing and no one is forever – not joy and not pain. All that endures, if that term can be used appropriately here, is change and nothing else.

    On the upside I can truly say that every couple breakup my friend’s went through produced a new beginning. In some case it led to a relationship with a new partner and a blending of two families, proving even more support and love than before. In other cases shared custody of children led to the rapid maturation and cooperation of two adults who were previously self centered and combative people. In a few cases new relationships led to new families peopled by folks I am close to now that I would never have met had the break-ups not taken place. In only two cases did those who were left behind become bitter and and choose to cling to self-righteous indignation. They had both bought into the bogus notion that they entitled to a life long relationship and became mean spirited and vindictive when their partners wanted out.

    • I’m sorry it’s been such a difficult time for you on all level timethief. I hope you will heal swiftly from your physical ailments. I know the grief has it’s on time track.

      You are so right that it’s so important to look at the possible positive outcomes and not stay stuck in the sorrow. The examples you shared here are excellent. Life is a series of contrast: sorrow and joy. When the sorrow is too strong we can balance it by thinking of the joy and possibilities! Thanks for your encouragement to do so. It helps a lot!

  10. I really struggle with inflexibility – change can be so scary and stubbornness as well as rigidity are often my go-to’s in the wake of this. I am constantly reminding myself to go with the flow of life because time and time again I have seen how “the universe” really seems to know what I need more so than I do. When I feel myself clamming up into my old ways of “no – it needs to be this way, needs to be my way” I remind myself to trust the flow because it always (eventually) comes through for me. When going through change, I try go embrace every single emotion while also staying in touch with my instincts. This has enabled me to marry my sweetheart and live in the country when what I originally had planned was to be single and living in the city. The irony of this does not escape me! I was really mad and resentful (but really just scared) at the world when these changes occurred. I would scream at the world “Don’t you know I had a plan!” Eventually my anger and resentment faded away (it always does even though when I’m drowning in it I worry it won’t) and I gained awareness and acceptance of my unplanned life that is beautiful is so many different unexpected ways and far less lonely than what I had planned for myself. Anyway, I hope you are doing better. Xo

    • This is an amazing insight into working with change. I loved the conclusion: “I gained awareness and acceptance of my unplanned life that is beautiful is so many different unexpected ways and far less lonely than what I had planned for myself.” I see how trust is so fundamental to your approach, and it’s an art and practice to deepen one’s just. You seem to be fully moving in the right direction!

      I’m fine. I found I was holding onto the sorrow too, and am learning to let it flow through.

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