“Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers
And styles of clothes
Things that you held high
and told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you.” – Joni Mitchell
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3.1
“Everything flows and nothing abides,
everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” – Heraclitus
“That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.” – Pema Chodron
Many wisdom cultures – and even popular culture – point out to us life’s most reliable characteristic – impermanence. My 88 year old Dad told me “Diane, that’s why I get up every morning – you never know what will happen.”
We react so differently to the fleeting nature of life. Part of our reaction is tied to attachment. We do not wish to let go of that which pleases us. So a friend dies, a lover leaves, a job ends, your son’s Bar Mitzvah, for which you have saved and planned draws down to its end – if the friend, lover, job or celebration is one that is felicitous to us we cling to it. The Buddhists tell us that impermanence is certain and that clinging is the source of suffering. Still, we cling, even knowing that “all good things must come to an end.”
Equally troubling (perhaps even more so) is our underlying belief that bad times will never ever ever in our whole born life ever go away. People out of work right now, those living for decades in East Germany before the Wall fell, a woman in a seriously bad marriage, a child growing up with alcoholic parents – endless the suffering seems to be.
From October 1997 through April 1998 my then partner and I went through the death of my mom, her nephew (11 days later) and then her mom. Our grieving felt like the Mariana Trench – nearly bottomless. However, what comforted me at that time was the thought of a ferris wheel – sometimes you’re down, true, but it goes back up again. And I thought “if this is how low the low is, imagine the high!”
Wisdom traditions teach us that the antidote for clinging to good things or feeling hopeless with bad things – i.e., struggling with life’s impermanence – is to be fully present in the here and now.
Viktor Frankl, imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, survived and wrote a stunning book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, in which he postulated that we can survive almost anything if we are able to attach meaning to our suffering.
I think that’s another key when struggling with impermanence – to be willing to learn the lesson that life is providing. That is worthy of another post, but I will simply say that when I have struggled mightily with what life is dishing out (oh, and I do), when I instead ‘turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God” (the 3rd of the 12 steps) and ask to learn whatever lesson God/the Universe/Life is trying ardently to teach me, things often shift very quickly.
Two final thoughts on this shifting reality we call life:
“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror, no feeling is final.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
“Everything will turn out okay in the end. If it is not okay, that merely means it is not the end.” – source unknown