We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more.
Thich Nhat Hanh
An underlying cause of misery in the human condition is the assumption of permanence to negative circumstance and dynamics. We assume they are permanent and let our thoughts and feelings run amok.
Some examples might be: a bad breakup and the fear of never finding love again, losing a job and the ensuing feeling of financial catastrophe and career derailment, or failing an important exam and extrapolating ongoing future failures.
Presently, the global economy has suffered from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and many feel hopeless about settling down one day with a family and a secure career. Such are the ebbs and flows of life and we have all experienced that moment of being struck by hopelessness. Yet upon re-examination—after time to regroup and redirect has passed—we notice that none of it was permanent, and the ‘bottom falling out’ panic was a kind of self-delusion.
The Law of Impermanence, or annica, is a universal truth in Buddhist philosophy. Everything changes, evolves, and eventually ceases to exist. Galaxies, humans, relationships, good things, bad things, events, emotions, thoughts, feelings… everything is impermanent.
Heraclitus, from Ephesus, who lived around the same historic period as The Gautama Buddha, also pondered the concept of impermanence, as he observed: Nobody ever steps in the same river twice. Not only has the river changed, so has the individual. This is deceptively simple but profound wisdom.
So I ask, if all is impermanent, why so persistently fret what is occurring moment to moment? Why so much worry about present problems and assume we are stuck forever? Why torture ourselves into panic attacks, anxiety, depression and other afflictions? Most crucially, how exactly do we get unstuck from this cycle of impending doom?
It is not the nature of events, which binds us into being stuck, it is our reaction to those events. Once we switch and refocus our attention on the impermanence of setbacks, we free ourselves and get unstuck. If it sounds too easy, it really is too easy. If we know that all things must pass, how can we possibly invest in continuing to worry? It will pass. And probably the less we worry, the sooner it will do so.
The ego wants to be in control. The ego wants to know what is coming next so that it can be ready when it comes. However, when we think we are in total control, and things seem to get out of control, we switch to panic mode. A global pandemic is enough to trigger panic in millions who lose control over daily lifein an overwhelmingly uncertain situation. Previously we had things in order and we assumed all was permanent. Now things are out of order, and we assume this is permanent.
An awareness of the Law of Impermanence allows us to accept the present moment as it is without the need to know where it is leads, without the need to control and manipulate it. When we let go of our need to control, we do not feel the need to know what is coming next. We can truly be in peace with the present moment as is. The truth is, we all know, uncertainty is all there is. Things change and we will never know. How liberating to let go of the need to know and to control? We can truly value the present moment, as it is.
Once we accept that we are not in total control, we can allow ourselves to let go, surrender and trust that everything is as it should be. And even with change—will still be as they should be. Let go, trust, and accept the uncertainty, accept the change and remember, “this too shall pass.”
Consequently, how do we react when undergoing an unpleasant situation? Here is a gentle guide for coping with uncertainty and change:
First, we accept our feelings about the situation without guilt, self-blame or judgment. We accept that we are feeling scared, nervous, mad or lonely. We accept that it is ok to feel that way. We are gentle with ourselves. Second, we breathe into that feeling. We close our eyes, and feel what part of our body has discomfort related to that feeling. Is it our tense shoulders, racing heart or tightening stomach? Third, we breathe into that space. As we breathe into the space, we see that part of the body filled with golden light. Fourth, we smile to that part of the body and say “this too shall pass”. We smile to our feeling, and say “you too shall pass”, we smile to the situation and say “you too shall pass”, we smile to ourselves and say “I too shall pass”. We see ourselves as golden light, and surrender ourselves to the universe, watching this golden light float up into the sky and continue into the depths of the cosmos, smile and say “and so it is”.
And so it is.
This too shall pass,
P.S. You can find the pertinent guided meditation on my YouTube channel. Click the button below to go to the YouTube page.