Impermanence is a favourite topic of Sandra’s. It is also something that is constantly at the back of my mind. Whether it is looking at cherry blossoms, reading or watching historical epics, I am always aware of the presence of impermanence. Yet it is not something that is necessarily bad. It is merely a part of this life. When there is a heavy storm, getting upset serves little purpose. All we can do is to adjust our actions to manage the situation. It is the same with impermanence. When we appreciate its value and place in this world, we can learn to manage it more effectively.
Cherry Blossoms: The Beauty of Impermanence
The Japanese are keen observers of nature. In the process, they have learned many important secrets of life. Take the cherry blossom for example. Given its nature, it has come to symbolize many things. By blooming en masse, it reminds us of clouds. But because of its extreme beauty and quick death, it is also an enduring metaphor for impermanence.
The Importance of Impermanence
What is impermanent in this world? Quite simply, the answer is everything. Our life, health, family, friends, status, career, possessions, successes, failures; these are all impermanent. Whether we are ready or not, one day, we will have to part from what we have in one way or another. Even so, impermanence has its value and place in this world.
1. Valuing Each Moment
Cherry blossoms bloom for only a very short period. It usually reaches its peak within a week after the opening of the first blossoms. After another week, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms fall from the trees. Due to its short lifespan, each moment is precious.
Human beings are odd creatures. When we believe we have eternity we tend to take things for granted. Take our loved ones for example. If we perceive that we have all the time in the world with them, we hardly notice their presence. This is something that advertisements conveniently leave out. Our perception of endless time dulls our senses and awareness. We assume we can tell our loved ones that we love them tomorrow. Time will wait for us. But the moment separation looms on the horizon each second becomes valuable. Impermanence helps us to realize the value of each moment.
2. Living Each Moment Fully
The Japanese have a lovely custom called hamani. Hanami is an old practice of having a picnic under a blooming cherry blossom tree. Every year, those with a keen interest in this custom will watch the blossom forecast with care. Once they know the dates of the bloom, they will organize an outdoor party under the cherry blossom trees. On the one hand, they can admire the beauty of the flowers and the moment while they are blooming. On the other hand, they can enjoy good company. In this manner, they live each moment of the cherry blossom bloom to the fullest.
What are we to do with impermanence? Giving in to melancholy will only waste precious time. But going to the other extreme with uninhibited revelry serves little purpose as well. It makes more sense to enjoy each moment while making the best of it. If we can live each moment fully, we will have little regret when our time is up.
3. Appreciating the Flavour of Impermanence
Nature has conditioned cherry blossoms to bloom only once a year. If cherry blossoms were available the whole year round, we would pay less attention to it. But because it only blooms once a year, we do not get bored of its fleeting beauty. It remains fresh in our minds.
By setting a time limit on things, impermanence keeps things fresh. When we have too much of anything, we fail to appreciate its value. But when something is in short supply, its value increases because we cannot get enough of it. Take a live dance performance for example. This event will not last forever, but while it lasts, we can appreciate its magnificence. Thus, impermanence adds a rich flavour to life.
Spirit of the Peacock by Yang Liping
I happened to come across this dancer while watching a Chinese martial arts drama serial. The dance comes on after 30 seconds or so and to me, it is worth the wait. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Dealing with Impermanence
In the light of the setting sun,
Men either beat the pot and sing
Or loudly bewail the approach of old age.
Here the end of the day has come. The light of the setting sun calls to mind the fact that life is transitory and conditional. Caught in this external bondage, men are usually robbed of their inner freedom as well. The sense of the transitoriness of life impels them to uninhibited revelry in order to enjoy life while it lasts, or else they yield to melancholy and spoil the precious time by lamenting the approach of old age. Both attitudes are wrong. To the superior man it makes no difference whether death comes early or late. He cultivates himself, awaits his allotted time, and in this way secures his fate. –Yijing Hex 30; 9 in the 3rd place
Before we can deal with anything, we have to accept it. This means accepting the change in status quo that impermanence brings. Once change happens, there is no way of going back to how things used to be. All we can do is to learn to adapt to the new situation and this can only happen when we accept it.
Next, we must be constantly aware of impermanence. It is easy to forget as we go about the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Problems can easily distract us and obscure the fact that nothing lasts forever. Then, when we least expect it, impermanence happens and we end up losing someone or something dear to us. If we have not made full use of the time we had, we will end up with a lifetime of regrets.
I am a big believer in proper nourishment for the mind, body and spirit. The right nourishment will lift us up while the wrong one will bring us down. It is no different when it comes to dealing with impermanence. We have to feed our minds on a consistent basis so that we accept impermanence as a part of our lives. With this awareness, we can live each moment as fully as possible while preparing for the inevitable.
Impermanence is inevitable. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid it. But this fact does not have to make us sad. Instead, we should go out and live fully. We should try to squeeze as much as we can out of each moment. This way, we will have a lifetime of memories and experiences behind us. When the inevitable happens, we will have less regrets and an easier time letting go.
What are your thoughts on impermanence? How do you deal with impermanence? Do share your thoughts and comments below.
The I-Ching or Book of Changes Translated by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997.