Impermanence as Liberation
The proof is all around us right now as the autumn leaves fall. The world is constantly changing. We might not like the notion of death and decay, but nobody can deny the beauty of it!
If you have ever sat down, closed your eyes and just observed your present experience moment to moment, you will have noticed that even when we are sitting in stillness, there are constantly changes happening. You might hear various sounds. Thoughts come and go. There might be an itch appearing somewhere in the body, an urge to move, or various emotions passing through you. This is life. We and the world around us change constantly. Yet, most of us are not comfortable with change. Most of us prefer life to stay the way it is. We do not want to lose our loved ones, and we do not want to grow older. But if we can truly understand impermanence and accept that it is impossible for us to grasp and hold on to anything, we can stop attempting to do so. We might also realize that impermanence brings freedom and opportunities too.
In my book, "Ageing Upwards," I use the following story to illustrate how we can use the awareness of a constantly changing world to help us accept and cope with the challenges of life.
Let's imagine that you have spent the afternoon making yourself a tasty bowl of creamy tomato soup. As you sit down to eat, you accidentally drop a big spoonful of salt into the bowl. Your soup has suddenly become extremely salty. What do you do? If you are like most people, you will immediately swear and call yourself a lot of unpleasant things. Instead, I invite you to focus your attention on the size of the bowl of soup. Suppose it is the size of an espresso cup. It is tiny. What do you think a spoonful of salt would do to your lovely soup in such a small container? Ruin it, right? There is pretty much nothing else but salt in there. Now let's envision that the soup container is the size of one of those huge pots they use in industrial kitchens. That is a lot of soup. What would a spoonful of salt do to that amount of soup? It would probably still affect it, and you would most likely rather this hadn't happened, but if you take a moment to really taste the soup, there would still be sweet flavors of tomato left, and you would still feel the creaminess in your mouth. The taste of the unpleasantness would be diluted.
My point is that we can open up to the unpleasantness of life by becoming bigger containers ourselves. Since life always consists of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral sensations constantly coming and going, it is pretty much impossible to be in a moment without there being a pleasant sensation present. We just need to notice it.
So when you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts about all the things that are unpleasant in the moment of your life, ask yourself, "What else is here now?" It might be something small like the sound of birds, the softness of a blanket, or the smell of coffee.
You can also use the phrase "This too shall pass" to remind yourself in moments of struggle that things will change no matter what you do or do not do. It gives me a sense of peace and liberation: it is not all up to me; nature will do its thing naturally. During joyful times, on the other hand, the phrase "this too shall pass" reminds you to be fully present and grateful for the moment.
If you would like to practice the ability to meet the impermanence of life with curiosity and acceptance by broadening your perspective, you can access the accompanying guided meditations to my book. It is explored in chapter 9, and the meditations can be found on my website.
Or you could put on a jumper and go outside to sit and observe nature right now as it is putting on its magnificent display of impermanence.