“With impermanence, every door is open for change. Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
We recognize that nothing lasts forever, this is an obvious part of our existence just from the simple fact that we get older. But most of the time we think of that as an unpleasant fact that we would prefer to ignore.
We look at the world around us, and most of it seems solid and fixed. We tend to stay in places we find comfortable and safe, and we don’t want them to change.
We also think we are permanent, the same person continuing from birth to death, and maybe beyond that.
The truth is that impermanence is a fundamental part of existence. Everything is always changing. A caterpillar creates a cocoon. Then it goes inside the cocoon and slowly transforms into a butterfly. Ultimately that butterfly dies. Is it the same being through those changes? It’s hard to say because so much of it’s body has changed.
I’ve heard it said that because of the way our cells reproduce and develop, every seven years we are composed of entirely different matter than we were before. It’s important to note that we are impermanent. Not just because we will some day die, but also because we are always changing. Am I the same person today that I was ten years ago? Or five years ago? Or a moment ago? I don’t know. This might seem scary, but really it’s liberating.
We don’t need to be held down by our past. In Buddhism we talk a lot about how ‘this moment’ is reality. Because I’m in this moment, not in some other one.
We can use our awareness of impermanence to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. We don’t suffer because things are impermanent. We suffer because we want things to last forever or, even worse, we expect things to last forever.
But, impermanence isn’t a bad thing in itself. That is just a value that we apply to it. Without impermanence, life is not possible.
How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent?
How can the situation in the world improve?
We need impermanence for hope.