I am always happy when something desired starts or something undesired stops. Yei! Same way I am unhappy when something desired ceases or something undesired starts. It is a very natural reaction to the impermanence of things. Thus, spring time is double dose of happiness because the cold winter months are luckily over. And something beautiful is about to happen. Later double unhappiness comes in the fall when warm days are over and cold days begin. So, yes, I can have double fun right now and then six months from now knock on the door of my therapist and cry in despair – where has all my happiness vanished. Instead, I can take a wiser approach and see the natural cycle of birth and death as unavoidable and beautiful.
I can celebrate the birth of colors, fragrant flowers and enjoy the warmth of sunlight as much as possible. I can soak it up and be grateful for the bright and high days. Charge the batteries totally because there are times ahead when I will only use the harvested energy and hardly get anything from outside. That is embracing the impermanence and responding to it wisely. If you live in an area with perceivable seasonal changes as I do, embrace the empty periods as well. No need for heading somewhere full speed on a snowmobile in the blizzard. Take a pause, let the activity decrease and reach a point of stillness.
Stop disrupting the cycle
As a matter of fact, I can promise that after the moment of total stillness, movement will start once again. Even in the stillness there is an internal clock ticking. It knows how much to tick before kicking in gear again. Interesting enough that I am accustomed to enjoying the bright, ripe, full, saturated, big-bang-boom sort of things. But then there is ample of time when that quality just is not available.
Because that is the nature of all things and proceses – they come into existence, grow and blossom, later decay and die. Thus I create a lot of stress grieving for something gone or wishing for something not yet arrived or born. And I am familiar with the burnout feeling when constantly heading somewhere. Knowing this I have started to relearn being grateful for what is there and pace my being differently. I have learnt to appreciate the various stages of things and enjoy them the way they are.
Watch seeds grow
Last spring, we planted a few potatoes and a wildflower meadow on top of it in a pot. Certainly, we were not aiming to enjoy the grand harvest, nor planning to lay back and chill in the fragrant meadow. We were totally excited about the various stages of the vegetation growth. “Potato growth is divided into five phases. During the first phase, sprouts emerge from the seed potatoes and root growth begins. During the second, photosynthesis begins as the plant develops leaves and branches. In the third phase, stolons develop from lower leaf axils on the stem and grow downwards into the ground and on these stolons new tubers develop as swellings of the stolon. This phase is often, but not always, associated with flowering.” We watched the white flowers and saw some bees approaching them with same curiosity and appreciation.
“Then tuber formation halts when soil temperatures reach 27 °C (81 °F). Tuber bulking occurs during the fourth phase, when the plant begins investing the majority of its resources in its newly formed tubers. The fifth and final phase is the maturation of the tubers: the plant canopy dies back, the tuber skins harden, and the sugars in the tubers convert to starches.” I have grown potatoes in the garden many times before but never appreciated the growth period that much. We ended up with approximately same amount of potatoes as planted but we got so much more out of this experience. We witnessed the nuanced changes day by day. For one thing, watching seeds grow is an excellent way to attune to the perception of changes and being here and now.
Get flowers and see them decay
Another favourite ritual to embrace the impermanence is watching cut flowers wither. “It is a common sight in Buddhist lands to see the devotees offer flowers and light oil lamps before a Buddha image. They are not praying to the Buddha or to any “supernatural being.” The flowers that fade and the flames that die down, speak to them of the impermanency of all conditioned things.” I come from a western culture but we give flowers on all occasions to both men and women. Earlier I did not think of giving cut flowers as a reminder for impermanence. Now I see it like celebrating a peak moment of existence with fully blossomed flowers that once cut, will fade. Same way our achievements and celebrations will fade away. But we rejoice now and are grateful for the moment while it lasts.
Nonetheless, my mom never liked cut flowers same way as she disliked the fact of aging, now I see the correlation or coincidence in thought patterns. Despite, I do not particularly enjoy having lots of cut flowers, I always have something seasonal in the vase. I notice the changes in nature, I look for the first snowdrops and the first cherry twig blossoming. I spot the tiny coltsfoot flower shining bright yellow long before the big dandelions come. And there are the last hops and rose hips in a vase from last season. I just pick those random flowers and stay with them for a moment. Particularly contemplative are wilting tulips. Their color slowly fades, the petals shrivel and fall one by one. The stigma and antlers sit exposed. Some pollen is still there and dusts the table underneath. Later, they freeze in a grotesque gesture. Now they are done.
Appreciate torn, broken, worn stuff
´”People cherish the belief that it is possible to discover a way of happiness in this very change, to find a center of security in this circle of impermanence. They imagine that although the world is uncertain they can make it certain and give it a solid basis, and so the unrelenting struggle for worldly improvement goes on with persevering effort and futile enthusiasm.”
However, I used to get rid of things long before they were done. Consumerism and capitalism encourage riding the wave of new and bright. But the shiny glorification of the next update creates an undercover problem somewhere down the lane. It is invading, hypnotising and so unnatural that the global crises is already in our face. However, we don’t have to avoid seeing marks of usage, time is unavoidable and things that we obtain are prone to changes in their characteristics.
Similarly, always having only fresh flowers in vase, perfectly cut lawn at the same height and the newest gadget version is a real effort to ignore the impermanence. The world is impermanent and the more we invest into pretending it is not, the more stress we create. We must cover up too many aspects at the same time. It is impossible to be always on zenith – young, strong, happy, satisfied, perfect. Obviously, the more we ignore the other phases of our journey, the more painful it will be.
Therefore, I have trained to see the beauty of the things that are not in the spotlight. When my grandparents passed away, each time I took one knife from their household. From my grandmother I took a knife that was sharpened so many times that it was now thin and narrow. But the knife from my grandfather was cut halfway and was more like a tiny stabbing knife. There was some kind of wabi sabi beauty in them – impermanence and imperfection shining through as well as the patina of passed times.
Look at the arising and fading of your mind states in meditation
Despite I cannot change impermanence, I can change my attitude to impermanence. I can train in a wiser response. “Heraclitus, that renowned Greek philosopher, was the first Western writer to speak about the fluid nature of things. He taught the Panta Rhei doctrine, the flux theory, at Athens, and one wonders if that teaching was transmitted to him from India.
“There is no static being,” says Heraclitus, “no unchanging substratum. Change, movement, is Lord of the Universe. Everything is in a state of becoming, of continual flux (Panta Rhei).” He continues: “You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” Nevertheless one who understands the root of the Dhamma would go a step further and say: The same man cannot step twice into the same river; for the so called man who is only a conflux of mind and body, never remains the same for two consecutive moments.“
In either case, embracing impermanence of things around us can lead us to recognizing the impermanence of ourselves. And further lead to the understanding that there is no self. Thus, there are aggregates that are changing themselves while kind of constituting us – the so-called self whom we are so used to perceive as solid and permanent entity.
Moreover, impermanent are not only things but our thoughts and feelings. It is a powerful and simple technique to watch the arising and fading of emotions or ideas while meditating. In a guided meditation I used to listen I felt empowered to hear the words: “There will be a tendency for the awareness to shrink. Then go back to scanning the body parts.” Even in meditation the states will arise and fall. Until we are beyond becoming, birth and death but I can assure you that it won’t happen any time soon. Meanwhile best we can do is learning to embrace the impermanence without suffering.
How are you going to watch the impermanence unravel?
I mention just three of all possible ways how to let the perception of impermanence be part of our days but there are many more. I am sure that you do something like this, or you have an idea what to do now! Why not share? In the comment section tell me your tricks. I have already bought new seeds for this season.