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.”
Why should we think about the impermanence of life at all?
Is it not easier to avoid dwelling on the fact that we all must die? Won’t we spoil a perfectly good day with such thoughts?
Why should we even continue reading this post?
Here are some good reasons for doing so and perhaps realising that, rather than spoiling our days on earth, thinking about transience can enhance them.
(Before I move on to the fuller exploration of Yalom’s book next week, I have decided to think about the linked issue of impermanence first.)
What ways of thinking might be helpful when contemplating the concept of impermanence in our lives? What comes into my own mind when I free associate around this difficult issue for all of us?
Fragments of poetry, wise thoughts and sayings, images, paintings, writings, all cascade into my consciousness…….Across time, human beings have pondered the somewhat imponderable subject of transience.
Here are some of my own ways of thinking and some selected works, poems and images which may stimulate your thinking and your feeling.
I hope they will bring you some inspiration, some pleasure and some comfort.
1. Accepting the impermanence of life is important in developing gratitude and appreciation for what we have.
Perhaps, paradoxically, we will feel more alive. Freud said that because a flower only bloomed for one evening, it was no less beautiful. (On Transience.‘ Freud. This essay is worth reading.)
is often hidden
in life’s fragile,
2. Struggling against the reality of impermanence will bring pain and torment.
We will be battling the inevitable, the unchangeable. Living every moment fully is impossible if we constantly deny our own mortality.
The greatest thinkers and sages of the world have long known the truth of this and many have tried to tell us that change is inevitable.
For some, it is hard to believe that one day we will cease to exist and that the world will still go on turning without us. We may be in denial, living the high life, a wild life, a fast-paced existence.
However, all this may serve only to shore up our fragile defences against the reality of the finiteness of our existence.
Consciousness of our demise will always be there anyway……
Eventually, those defences will give way to a painful truth, that we all must die. Without adequate internal preparation and without having lived as full a life as possible, such awareness will be all the more frightening.
“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” Nhat Hanh
“There is no such thing as permanence at all. Everything is constantly changing. Everything is in a flux. Because you cannot face the impermanence of all relationships, you invent sentiments, romance, and dramatic emotions to give them certainty. Therefore you are always in conflict.”
Whatever we may wish for, all things must fade, decay and die.
“Many have died; you also will die. The drum of death is being beaten. The world has fallen in love with a dream. Only sayings of the wise will remain.”―
“Photographers are victims of paradox, tracking the impermanent to make it permanent. ” Ray MetzkerPearse Family Portrait. 1887. Maurethe. Wikimedia Commons.
I do not emphasise all this to be negative or morose, only to underline the importance of dealing with reality in order to continue with living in a fulfilling way.
3. The realisation that what we do and what we have can disappear at any moment could be a wake-up call.
For those of us who drift through life or hold onto an unreal and narcissistic fantasy that we will live forever, developing an awareness that life is finite can be life-changing.
It may mean that we begin to take steps to create a more meaningful and fulfilling life. It can inspire us to become more directional and hopeful of a better future.
4 Understanding the impermanence of life can bring us joy, mastery, choice and control.
“When you truly embrace your human impermanence you connect with the power you have, and influence you have, over the time you have.”
―“All conditioned things are impermanent — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”
If we can fill our lives with experiences that satisfy and absorb us, then we will be moving in the direction of accepting our own impermanence and valuing the time that we do have on earth.
Getting on with work and leisure and immersing oneself in what life has to offer, despite its transience, brings us something close to happiness.
“All created things are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.”
‘Work.’Ford Madox Browne. Wikimedia Commons.
“The secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for.“
Creating a life for ourselves that is rewarding gives us a way of enjoying our presence on earth and of feeling fortunate that we have existed at all.
We are each part of a much bigger whole, a minute fleck on the surface the universe. We will, without exception, return to the earth from where we have come and blend again into its fabric.
We are part of an evolutionary process that will continue to develop and change….without us.
5. Accepting our fate is evidence of our strength and resilience.
It is not easy to face reality full on. It takes strength, wisdom and fortitude to accept one’s own limited life span.
Yet all who can take on board the inevitable fact of the impermanence of life will discover that there is nevertheless much to celebrate.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.’
W. Somerset Maugham
“Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”
Rainer Maria Rilke
“Our lives are written in disappearing ink”Image: Flickr.
“Life is but a day; a fragile dew-drop on its perilous way from a tree’s summit.” John Keats
In next week’s post, I shall explore Yalom’s book, Staring at the Sun. This book is about coping with the fear of death.