The Magic of Impermanence and its Power to Liberate
What is Impermanence?
Impermanence is a natural law of the universe that applies to all phenomena in the external and internal world. It is easy to understand impermanence when we have a firm grasp of cause and effect. This is because only when we realize all phenomena arise from the coming together of causes and conditions can we appreciate the transient and temporal nature of all things in the world. The conditions that come together to create form are conditioned by nature themselves, and when they inevitably change, so will the form they conditioned change too.
Impermanence means that nothing is fixed, nothing remains forever, and everything that arises will one day pass away. We can observe this truth everywhere in the world around us. The flowers and trees blossom into beauty only to wither away at the end of their cycle. The mountains and valleys never remain the same shape and form despite how great and mighty they are. The seasons are forever moving, carrying its visible influence throughout the animal kingdom and human societies. Even diamonds, which are seemingly indestructible, degrade to graphite after a few billion years.
In our inner world, the mind is similarly undergoing perpetual change. On an emotional level, we alternate between happiness and despair countless times a day. Our thoughts and feelings resemble a relentless streaming river that forever changes with the environment. What our perceptions label as good and bad, right and wrong, love and hate, likewise shifts between extremities dependent on our mood, social values, and opinion of our surrounding people.
Impermanence is neither a good nor a bad thing, which is merely human perception, but is a natural law that when understood and observed, changes the way we perceive the world and transforms how we live our lives.
Impermanence breeds gratitude
When we abide with a deep understanding of impermanence, we naturally develop a strong sense of gratitude. By realizing that nothing lasts forever, we appreciate what we have much more because we never know how long we have it. Our time, health, wealth, and energy are all non-renewable resources with an unknown expiration rate. Our family, friends and loved ones, similarly have their own constraints and limitations that are indefinite. In fact, there is nothing we can state about the future with absolute certainty. This is the reality of life we enlighten to when we develop insight into impermanence.
Living with gratitude focuses our attention on the present moment because all we truly have is the entirety of the here and now. Right now, we can enjoy and utilize the present state of our body, our mental health, our pulsing heart, our working brain, and all the people around that exist this moment. Abiding with such a present and mindful attitude, we live much more intentionally and consciously. We stop being weighed down by memories of the past or projections into the future, and just accept the present state of this moment.
When we experience moments of stress, anxiety, or anguish, having the insight of impermanence takes a little pressure off the ordeal. We understand that similar to all phenomena that has arisen and passed away in the past, this too shall pass. It doesn’t mean we can remove ourselves from the experience, but it changes the perception of the experience, and the suffering is consequently lessened. If we can carry this attitude into all of life’s struggles and challenges, we will develop a level of resilience over time that makes future obstacles less impeding.
True freedom is not achieved by escaping from our problems, because the fear of it remains and that inner fear will forever haunt our peace of mind. Freedom is truly realized only when we no longer fear our problems, because we have the insight and experience to peacefully handle everything life throws at us. This insight is developed by embracing impermanence and observing it mindfully in the present moment.
Changing our attitude
When we embrace the reality of impermanence as a natural law of the universe, our attitude towards life changes irreversibly. The power of gratitude brings us to an elevated state of joyful being by highlighting all the things we are fortunate enough to have. Our mind is rewired to focus on the things we have instead of the things we don’t, and that leads to much joy and happiness.
Deep found appreciation of impermanence also brings our mindfulness intensely into the present moment because it is all we truly have and everything we experience in life. When we are reminded of the past, we do so in the present moment. When we ponder about the future, we also do it in the present moment. Life is only ever lived in the present moment, and realization of this truth grounds us deeply in the here and now. When we do so, the worries of the past appear so far away, and the stresses of the future seem so insubstantial. We still plan for the future because it is the social responsibility of the collective, but we do so with much more clarity and intention.
With the wisdom of impermanence, we live much more freely by not becoming overly attached to things that we cannot control, that are temporal by nature, and that are inherently unreliable. We understand that all physical objects in the material world such as our cars, houses, clothing and possessions are under the influence of many external factors that are out of our control and we can lose ownership of them as easily as the changing tides in the ocean. Instead of deriving our pleasure and happiness from the external world, our joy arises deep within a peaceful mind that remains calm and unmoving in the midst of the turbulent and ever-changing world. By not becoming overly involved with what we cannot control, we cultivate a resilient and controlled mind that brings us endless joy and fulfillment.
As well as not attaching to the material world, we also stop being swayed by our ever-fluctuating emotions, thoughts, and feelings, which resemble the waves within the ocean of our consciousness. By maintaining mindfulness of these waves, we stop associating with it and instead view it from a third-person perspective. This third-person perspective is our pure observing awareness, which is our true self; our real self that doesn’t increase or decrease, change or die, but is eternally blissful, clear, and unmoving. By understanding what is impermanent and conditioned to be unreal, illusory, and inherently empty, we slowly reveal what is our ever-present true self. This is the beginning of living a spiritually and mindful life.
How embracing impermanence has changed my life forever
When I think about all the things I used to get worked up over, it highlights just how far I’ve come. I would worry so much about what my friends were doing, what others thought of me, what was the right way to live, and what were the right things to say and do. I lived such a fake life, chasing all the things I didn’t really care about all because it was what everyone else was doing.
It lead me to study accounting because it was a safe and professional path. I purchased my first apartment unit at the age of 21 because buying property was supposed to be smart. I worked as an accountant for four years, mindlessly going to work every day because it was deemed the “successful career path.” It wasn’t until I finally became a CPA at 25 that I realized I had been climbing up the wrong tree my whole life. Luckily for me, I discovered quite early on that if I had remained in the corporate world until my retirement, sure I would have lived a comfortable life. But I pictured very vividly for the first time, myself on my deathbed, reflecting not on the wealth I’d have accumulated, but on how meaningless of a life I would have lived if I had worked a nine-to-five accounting job for the majority of my time on earth.
This sobering image lead me to an epiphany that in my dying moments, nothing else would matter at all. Realizing the impermanence of life and the uncertainty of the future, I decided it was best to live life like it was my last day, intentionally, and with nothing to lose. I quit my job, sold my house and all my belongings, and began traveling as a nomad with just a backpack, seeking the answers on how to maximize this short human experience I have been blessed with. With no clear plan in mind, I just followed conditions as they presented themselves.
After a friendly conversation with a telemarketer who quickly gave up trying to sell me insurance after hearing of my lifestyle, he was fascinated by what I was doing and introduced to me the world of TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I took on his advice and became certified with a TEFL certificate by an online school the following month. Then another two months later, I found myself in China working my very first English teaching job. Following conditions, I then considered my mother’s invitation to join her on a six-month Monastic Retreat in a Taiwan Monastery called Fo Guang Shan. This was how I became a Buddhist Monk for two years and learned everything I could about Buddhist philosophy on joy and suffering.
After two years, I decided it was time to continue my adventure elsewhere, and after disrobing, I accepted my first job offer, which was at a High School in a small town called Chaiyaphum in Thailand. I have been here for fourteen months now, and I am writing this from a school that I opened with my partner of 1 year. The school is called Happy Learning Club. Two months ago, I went to India to do a Yoga Teacher Training course for a month, and since then, I have been teaching yoga every day, free open classes to everyone in the community.
It seems incredibly magical, writing down my life of the past five years, but all I did was live presently, following conditions, and not attaching myself to things I have no control over. I feel free as a bird, happy and relaxed, and enjoy what I am doing, though I have no idea what the future holds. And I much prefer it this way.
Impermanence has taught me to cherish the present moment. To be grateful for all that I have. To stop worrying and stressing about things I cannot control. But most importantly, to live a meaningful and fulfilling life, because I only have one, and in the end, all that matters is the impact you’d have left behind.
Thanks for reading 😊