Your Pal, Impermanence

By Bob Allen

We have a species-wide propensity for becoming attached to things we view as pleasant or desirable and resisting things that aren’t. Then, there is a whole class of conditions that are neither and we’re REALLY not sure what to do with those but in general, we’d like to convert the neutral conditions to pleasant ones.

Sure, you’re saying, who wants unpleasantness? Well, I would submit that we waste a lot of time on chasing the pleasant and resisting the unpleasant without looking at the underlying condition which is that EVERYTHING CHANGES ALL THE TIME. Really this isn’t some weird metaphysics, in fact, its REAL physics. Physicist John Wheeler way back in the 1960s demonstrated that at the very smallest level of reality, the universe is made of what he called “quantum foam” -think of it as little bubbles of matter and energy (which are the same thing) popping in and out of space and time (which are also the same thing) like foam in a glass of Guinness (without the fine taste). Here’s the news, this same constant change applies at the macro level too and far from being some kind of “problem”, it’s a reason to celebrate! Without this impermanence, you would never get over the flu, your children could never grow up, dictatorships would never fall, and we wouldn’t have the seasons. Also, cash flow would never improve, clients would never get over their bad moods, and we couldn’t ever complete a job (because “finished” is a change from “not finished”). Getting used to the fact that change is the basic and reliable nature of things can be extremely liberating.

First, if we’re experiencing something we’ve labeled as “unpleasant” impermanence offers us an end to it. That’s an obvious advantage but how about pleasant things? We don’t want them to change. RIGHT! And misunderstanding impermanence can make us ruin things that are pleasant by immediately trying to grasp them and “make” them not change. Better to fully appreciate the pleasant things and know that they will rise and fall like everything else so we can enjoy them fully.

If we can learn to understand that this dynamic process is not only how, but why the universe works, it helps us to get through the difficult times (“This toothache will eventually go away”) and appreciate the good times (“I am really enjoying this pastrami sandwich”). It relieves stress and liberates us from the notion that our lives are somehow going to be OK or better “sometime” but not now. So, raise your glass (maybe some O’ that Guinness we talked about) and toast: “Vive Impermanence!” -it’s something we can count on and it makes our life rich.

June 19, 2012|Archive|

About the Author: Bob Allen

Bob spent 25 years with the Walt Disney Company before founding IDEAS back in 2001. He is a nationally recognized speaker, avid bike rider, and Zen teacher/practitioner.

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