“You do not suffer because things are impermanent. You suffer because things are impermanent and you think they are permanent.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
I looked out my window a few minutes ago, and just a few tiny snowflakes were gently falling to the ground.
They were so small that they were barely even noticeable. I really had to look closely to see them in the first place. I stood there for a few moments, looking around at the houses, cars, and people below.
I walked to my couch, sat down, and ate a snack of peanut butter on toast with cut-up pieces of banana.
When I walked back to the kitchen to deposit my plate only minutes later, the scene outside my window had changed drastically. Now my view resembled a winter wonderland! Flakes the size of toonies (I’m Canadian) were blowing every which way, and what I saw was a blur of white.
Then it struck me that what I had just experienced was actually a metaphor for life.
Things can change from one moment to the next
A complete 180, like the scene I just witnessed outside my window, happens more often than we actually realize in our day-to-day lives.
We plan for things in the future as if the current circumstances will continue to exist next year, or even five years from now.
We see things like our current bank balances, our debts, our physical appearance, our partner’s flaws, our own flaws, or our work situations as stable and enduring, when the truth is, they’re always changing. None of these things are set in stone, and all of them can be completely transformed over time.
Deep down, though, we don’t like that. We want stability. We want a sense of constancy and dependability.
Most of all, we want to feel like we’re safe and secure. We want to feel like we really know our friends and partners, and we want assurance that who they are now is who they’ll always be.
But that’s not how life works
“We are identifying with what is passing, so fear comes. We are trying to make steady and permanent what is by nature impermanent.” — Mooji
Just as the weather and the seasons change, so do people. The weather can radically shift in a matter of moments, and so can our emotions.
But instead of accepting that humans are living, breathing creatures, just like everything else on earth, we start to see people as having fixed personalities, and we then expect them to always behave a certain way.
If your partner sees you as generally happy, laid back, and quiet, he’ll become annoyed and uncomfortable when you express anger, and he’ll try to change it — and change you — because you’re not fitting into the box of what he’s come to view as permanent.
This will feel threatening in the moment, even though it’s just a passing emotion that, once expressed, is likely to subside.
We assume everything in life is fixed
We also do this with our life circumstances.
Just the other day, Aaron and I were doing some planning for the year to come.
He’s an electrician, and always has a list of side projects on the go when he gets home from work. We sat down on the couch together and made a list of all the things we knew were on the horizon.
Even though he’s been working most weekends and even some weeknights for the past few months now, the to-do list was still long and filled about a page of my notebook. I was surprised at how much remained.
Despite the pandemic this year, our life went into overdrive with renovations and complete re-wires of cottages and houses piling up. We quickly found ourselves burned out, and with very little time for our relationship, which neither of us were happy with.
Not wanting a repeat of how crazy and busy this pandemic year has been for us, we resolved to plan better for 2021. We figured that if we just tried to think about it in advance, then maybe we’d get a better hold on it and it wouldn’t feel so out of control again next year.
The funny thing, of course, is that we can plan which jobs we’ll do in which months and try to space everything out perfectly all we want, and there’s no guarantee that everything will play out how we want.
Some people may change their minds, and some jobs may not happen anymore. Others might need to happen sooner than we planned. It’s impossible to plan these things with any certainty.
In reality, nothing is permanent
When you begin to become aware of how quickly things change, treating life as though things are fixed and stable doesn’t make much sense.
What does make sense is taking it one day at a time, and remembering that today’s circumstances may look completely different tomorrow.
People change, and so do their plans, wishes, budgets, and timelines. Just because someone says they want to do something today doesn’t mean they will still have the same plan a few days, weeks, or months from now. Life happens, and what someone thought they were going to do may get altered along the way.
I’ve experienced this multiple times with the business I work at as well. My boss may make a plan today, and it may change tomorrow (literally). So there’s no benefit to getting attached to certain outcomes or plans.
Why get caught up in believing and acting like things are permanent, when there is evidence all around us that life is ever-changing?
Settle into impermanence
It seems to me that keeping an open mind and not taking everything so seriously may be the best way forward.
Listen to people, and take their wishes and plans into account, but don’t view them as certain.
If you start living as though things can change, then you won’t be disappointed or thrown off course when they inevitably do.
Viewing things from a lens of impermanence allows for more adaptability, and, ironically, more stability.
“When you see and accept the impermanent nature of all life forms, a strange sense of peace comes upon you.”
— Eckhart Tolle
This is something I’m going to work at reminding myself of as often as I can as we go into the year ahead.