Another year gone, another year’s almost over. If you happened to meet yourself from one year ago, would you recognize that person? Are they an exact replica of who you are now?
The answer is no, they are different, you are different – you’ve changed. The you from a year ago is no longer the you of now. Heck, the you from a month ago is not the same you as of now, and if you really want to get technical about it the you from the last second is not the same you as of right now.
You are in constant change – every second of every moment the cells within your body are dying, making way for new cells to arise, which will then also pass away. Arising to pass away, arising to pass away. Your entire physical structure is being reconfigured, the old making way for the new, the new becoming the old and heading off in the same direction. We are a constant of motion, a cycle of movement – the only consistent thing about us is the pattern of persistent change. And herein lies the dichotomy, the irony, of existence – the only lasting thing that endures is our enduring capacity to change.
What is true for you is also true for the whole world around you. After all, we are but part of the same natural order that governs all that exists, whether animate or inanimate. Hard science tells us that the physical world is not so solid after all, but is made up of atoms, trillions of tiny particles moving so uniformly as to appear to us the stable world we encounter daily. A table is a table, a wall a wall. If I kick the table it will break (or if it’s not my lucky day, it will break me). A solid thing meeting another solid thing, with no apparent trace of these so called particles – atoms in one, human cells in the other – at work.
It is true that the world appears solid, it is also true that when you turn on a light switch the light automatically flickers into being. You do not see the electricity, do not need to watch its progress from the circuit into the filaments of the light bulb to accept that it’s there. If someone were to tell you that the light came on by magic, you would have no qualms in educating this poor, ignorant fool on the science behind electricity.
Similarly, one cannot see atoms, one cannot see individual cells, yet we also have the knowledge that they exist and it is their existence that gives us our existence every day. When we look in the mirror in the morning we see a familiar body, solid and sturdy, just as when we head down for breakfast we sit on a chair, at a table, all solid and sturdy. But the reality is what we encounter is only the apparent truth; what we miss, because it is not obvious to the naked eye, is the ultimate truth.
Every particle in existence, from atoms to cells, in the living world and the inanimate, holds one universal characteristic – it arises to pass away. It comes into existence, it will fade out of it; if it is born, it will die. Nothing arises to stay, nothing passes away that remains gone forever; something else will always arise in its place. It is constant change, the universe is constant change, life is constant change.
This is the ultimate truth, the universal truth, that ordains all matter in our physical world – change is universal, it is happening, it is always happening. But we don’t see it. From the moment we are born we are heading towards our deaths, as our body goes through its constant changes of what first we call growth, then after adolescence as we reach what we deem ‘maturity’ suddenly those changes become called ‘aging’. Growth and aging, two sides of the same coin. All that differs is perspective – one is good, necessary, it makes you proud (Look, I’m a big girl now!), the other is terrible, revolting, seems like the universe carrying out a personal vendetta against you (Grey hair already? And is that a wrinkle?!).
Changes in us are not always blatantly apparent – mostly it appears as if nothing is different – so we easily take for granted the solidity we see every day as the real truth. Thus it becomes a terrible shock when a clear and unmistakable change does take place, shaking us to the core because it jolts us out of the false belief that the realities around us are permanent. What happens when an accident or illness changes your physical form, or the death of a loved one robs away the idea of human immortality? Suddenly we are staring the truth in the face, and those few moments of clarity, if you are not ready for them, are terrible moments indeed. When you have spent a lifetime under the delusion of permanence, to open your mind suddenly to the truth of impermanence goes against everything for which you have believed in, of everything you once held dear.
Life is not permanent; it is impermanent. This of course is very unfair because at the gross, apparent level of cognition, to most of us it appears to be. All of our senses, in our normal day-to-day lives, reports back to the command center of our brains to tell us that who we are, what we see, and who we know are all as solid and stable as a cement wall, as unchanging as the sorry state of customer service at the telecom companies. Life is not a fixed state, but it sure looks like it is. And herein lies our problem – we believe in permanence but life, and everything in it, adamantly refuses to remain so.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. – Robert Frost
If in impermanence we find our problem, then so in impermanence shall we find our solution. What we are missing is a congruent understanding of the nature of the world, but we can turn that misunderstanding around. If we are making ourselves miserable by forming such strong attachments to impermanent things, which in their very nature will arise and pass away, arise and pass away, we can also get out of that misery by accepting the truth of impermanence. Because all things by their nature are changing – if something terrible has happened or something wonderful has occurred, both situations have the same characteristic of arising and passing away. To hold on to either would be to foolishly barrel headfirst into misery – whether in believing that this pain will never go away, or that this joy is everlasting.
The only truth in this world is the truth of change, and the only true happiness comes from the understanding and acceptance of this truth. So whatever it is that you are going through or may become destined to face, turn to face it bravely by reminding yourself: This, too, will change.
Author’s Note: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! If you think these words could help someone you know, please, SHARE the article, it really helps to get the word out and I appreciate it deeply. No new post next week but I will be back in the new year on January 10th. Be safe everyone, hug a loved one, live in the present and I will see you in 2018!
Cheers and Bless xx