In fairy tales, the story always ends with everyone living happily ever after: the magical first kiss is still being savoured; the hero has slain the monster; the treasure has been won. These stories leave us hanging with the idea that we can freeze life’s Polaroid moments.
Honest investigation would reveal that:
- Not even royal love lasts forever.
- Slaying one dragon doesn’t mean you won’t get restless, and want to slay some more.
- Vast treasures go quickly, especially when other people in the kingdom know who to come to for money.
Impermanence is impossible to escape. Whether it’s the death of a goldfish, the end of a love affair or a move across town – change is inevitable.
Why Impermanence is so Great
It can be sad that things don’t last forever, but remembering this can be helpful when we are enmeshed in difficult emotional states. Thanks to impermanence, this too shall pass, whatever this is.
When we cling to the idea of things lasting forever, we shield ourselves from experiencing here and now.
Making Impermanence Work for You
We can let the awareness that all things end wake us up to the importance of enjoying things or finding the courage to experience things when they are happening, knowing we may never pass this way again.
However, as we work with the breath and other practices of awareness, we may begin to feel a greater ease with and acceptance of the inescapable reality of impermanence.
Try this practice and notice if it helps you feel more present:
- Pay particular attention to the breath coming in.
- Notice the physical sensations of breathing.
- Continue to pay attention to the “in-breath.” Notice yourself being here, right now.
- Shift your attention to the sensation of the breath leaving the body.
In this basic act of breathing in and out, we have the experience of impermanence. Our breath comes in, our breath goes out. If we try to hold on to either, we die.
How Practising Awareness of Impermanence can Lead to Greater Peace and Happiness
One of the challenges with believing that things can be permanent, is we tend to feel more deeply sad about our own changing situations. In our minds, other people are dancing around happily in love, with smart attractive children, and property, and adoring friends. If we hold the idea that someone out there is getting to live happily ever after, and we’re not, how could this not create depression and anxiety? For all of us, rich or poor, famous or anonymous, the good and bad times come and go. No one escapes. Even in fairy tales, we never do hear about the “ever after” part (although Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” has a great take on what likely does happen, after “The End”).
Singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, famously wrote the early 70’s hit, about a son who tries, unsuccessfully, to get his busy father’s attention. At the end of the song, the son now grown, is too busy to give the aging father attention. We think we have forever to get around to things. We don’t. But knowing this can set us free from disappointment and wake us up to getting on with things before the moment passes. It might be the letter you meant to write, the show you meant to go to, or even telling someone you love them. As we keep our awareness of impermanence, we may find it easier to do things, not having tricked ourselves into thinking we have forever.
Mindfulness encourages me to be brave and choose to turn and face difficult thoughts and situations, as I hold the truth that everything changes.
Why wait? Accept impermanence today, and start living like there’s no tomorrow.