By John Lee Pendall
Impermanence sucks. Everything would be impossible without it, but it still sucks.
Life depends on impermanence. If things didn’t change, then not even the tiniest cell could’ve been puked out of the primordial soup; there wouldn’t have been any soup. Who wants to live in a world without soup?
Without impermanence, there’s no Big Bang, no time, no laws of physics in general. The “universe” would just be infinite and eternal nothingness. Impermanence is a fundamental law, so the Big Bang happened; it’s still happening.
Impermanence makes the rain fall and the grass grow.
It makes the sun shine. It makes us fall in love and it turns a sperm and egg into an embryo. It gives us everything—including ourselves, and then it takes it away.
That’s the part that hurts.
Impermanence sucks because it means all good things have to come to an end. Everything ends. Endings hurt if you care about what it is that ended. It’s impossible to care and not get hurt, and it’s tempting to just stop caring.
But that sucks too. Sure, you can let go of all emotional investment in the world and be at peace, but at what cost? You would be losing all the good stuff, all the humanity. You might as well be a rock gathering moss.
So, we make the oldest trade in history: love for pain. We’ve just gotta enter into it wisely, knowing ahead of time that things are gonna keep changing and that that means things are gonna suck at times.
Fortunately, pain is impermanent too.
When you’re in the thick of mental or physical agony, wait it out. Persevere. Be patient. Day to night to day. Summer to winter to summer. Just wait.
“Can we escape impermanence?” What a great question, Hypothetical Person! It’s a loaded question, but great nonetheless. Let’s break dance…I mean break it down.
Can the body escape impermanence? No, the body is a bundle of matter that hangs off the cosmic tree. Fruit drops and rots into soil; the body dies and unfolds into the world at large. Even now it’s barely bundled; there’s no solid, unchanging boundary between the body and everything else. Just breathe, the evidence is right there.
Can the mind escape impermanence?
Well, it definitely has a better shot at it than the body (ha-ha!). The mind isn’t an object, it’s a process, a flow of information that gets regulated into intricate patterns. It’s seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking and feeling.
But, here’s the thing, when you’re in dreamless sleep—or especially under anesthesia— where is the mind? Where was it before you were born? Where is hearing when you get so wrapped up in something that all the sounds and silences around you disappear?
There’s no reason to think that the mind can be permanent and every reason to think that it and the body are actually identical. It’s high time we put an end to Cartesian dualism in our culture.
Really, the only “thing” that has to be permanent is impermanence. We might as well say that change is God. It fills all of God’s creation/destruction job load. I pronounced job like Job, by the way.
If we’re looking for something greater than ourselves to rely on, change is it. Impermanence sucks less when we flow with it and understand it. Each moment is an expression of this boundless force. From a dust mote to the whole universe and beyond, it all stems from impermanence.
So, yeah, it sucks. And it doesn’t.
Editor: Dana Gornall