The Splendors of Impermanence


Nothing is permanent.  Everything is subject to change.  Without change life would be impossible.

I talk a lot about first seeing teachings on an intellectual level until our practice evolves further and we can transform our surface understanding into deeper levels of clarity and insight.  This first step is not arbitrary and should not be under valued.  It’s not only necessary but crucial for self-transformation to occur.  It is human nature for our intellect to get involved first.  Over time, with active practice, our experiences begin to color in the black and white outlines our intellect created and bring the teachings to life.

Our intellect is like an instruction booklet and our practice is what comes to form when we follow the step by step directions.  For example: let’s say we have an instruction booklet on How to Make a Clay Bowl.  We read through the booklet and gather the materials necessary.  Then we set out to learn techniques.  Once we put the time and effort into working with the clay hands on we can create a beautiful bowl.  That bowl is the product of our attention and diligence.  Just as our authentic experience of the Buddha’s teachings are the result of our intellectual understanding.  One cannot replace the other.  Both are needed equally to bring about transformation.


It is easy to say, “yeah, yeah, change is part of life,” but not yet fully get in touch with what the teaching of impermanence has to offer.  When we practice to embrace change we practice to embrace the present moment.  When we get stuck in our expectations, ideas, and stories we are caught in either the past or the future.  Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) has a saying: Go As a River.  This simple saying is directly related to impermanence.  To go as a river is to flow with the present moment just as it is.  When we fight to swim against the river, which is to say the flow of the here and now, we are railing against change.  When we think to ourselves, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” we water the seeds of thinking that everything should forever remain unchanging.

To cultivate a comfortability with impermanence is also to practice the beautiful art of letting go.  Due to our want, and expectation, for things and people to stay the same we become ill equipped to skillfully handle differing life situations.  We needlessly create more drama and suffering for ourselves.  When we can begin to see that every single thing that happens, from a stranger giving us what we think is a dirty look to getting a flat tire to getting injured or sick, is a part of life and not separate we start cultivating the deeper lessons of impermanence.  When we turn away from the simple truth that all things are subject to change we’re not altering the outcome of anything, all we’re doing is looking in the wrong direction.

Joan's picture

Joan’s picture

2 thoughts on “The Splendors of Impermanence

  1. Hi Nicole! Impermanence and flowing in the river asks us to practice balance; balance involves the art of keeping still while also being in motion, the art of being “I” while also part of “all”, and especially that of balancing the seeming opposites we encounter- seeing life within death, for instance. I took a wonderful photo recently at the ocean that expresses these ideas – I would like to post it but don’t know how yet. Will send it to you. Namaste my dear friend, Joan

    • Hi Joan! Thank you for your words and thoughts. I very much agree about balance. To all things there is balance and it will look differently for each of us. I was talking about that very thing at sangha on Monday night. Thank you for the picture!

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