I believe that everything is impermanent.
I read this question from Teresa Deak on Facebook yesterday.
“I’m fascinated by the story behind this beautiful poem by Kelly Letky and I’m curious about your own definitions of impermanence…. what are your stories?”
I didn’t really answer the question because it sent me off in another direction. Off I went for a ponder.
My definition of impermanence is, I imagine like most people, ‘not permanent; transitory’. But when I thought about it, I couldn’t find an example of anything that is, actually, permanent. Everything changes. Edifices weather and crumble. The granite boulder is eroded by the sea to join millions of others that make up the sand. The seasons cycle. Flowers grow, bloom, seed and die. I am currently experiencing the joy of watching young chicks as they fledge nests and develop into adult birds. Cells are being born, growing, dying. Even Tech guy – who I expect to be a permanent fixture in my life, for the rest of my life – grows and changes. Virtually every cell that existed within his body seventeen years ago when we met has been replaced. His neural pathways have extended, increased, formed and reformed. His hair has got greyer – and shorter, and longer and shorter again. My three awesome daughters are not babies any more – they too have grown, learned, developed and have become accomplished young women in their own rights. Every experience or encounter that we have changes us in one way or another.
Have you ever met someone whose kindness brightened your day? Or found that, no matter how positive you are at the start of your work shift, the negativity of the people you work with drags you down into a depression? Each of these experiences impacts on us and changes us in one way or another.
Sometimes we rail against change – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – and often we can’t see the positive in a change. New technology moves forward at an, often, alarming rate and echoing in the back of my mind are the words of my parents, “in my day…..” In my day we wrote letters, had to be at home to make a phone call, had respect for our elders, said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, wore school uniform. We paid attention, did our duty and conformed to the standards of the day. But we also didn’t have a voice, were ‘seen and not heard’. We were clipped around the ear for talking back (which often was just having a different opinion to our parents) and were taught to learn facts and figures rather than critical analysis. So, things change. No longer do people have to hide their sexuality, they can speak out about abuse and injustice. They can leave unhealthy relationships. We have choices that our parents never had. We survive illnesses that past generations possibly would never have contracted because they didn’t live long enough. Without change the world would be populated by dinosaurs instead of people.
Change brings us huge benefits as well as challenges. It serves us well to remember that since things change, when we find ourselves in an intolerable situation – this too will pass. The pain of the death of a loved one recedes over time, broken bones and hearts mend and suffering caused by past experiences can be released if we allow them to.
The problems arise when we take these things to be permanent. Stories that we have carried from our past. I once asked a patient of mine why it was that when she received dozens of positive affirmations of her worth and one negative one – that was the one she chose to believe. Is it innate that we believe the worst about ourselves – despite evidence to the contrary? Certainly I am much more comfortable seeking evidence to support the negative idea of myself. I learned from a very early age – at two years old, having spent a couple of weeks with my Grandmother while my mother was in hospital giving birth to my younger sister – I screamed and fought not to go home. My Mother believed that I had been spoiled by my Nana – it did not occur to her that it was preferable to me to stay in a small, one bedroom flat with my elderly grandparents than go home to what awaited me there – constant reinforcement that I was not good enough – and here was another child just to prove that my Mother needed one that was better than me. Experiences over the next fifty years did little to negate these beliefs and so, I hung on to my story. It formed my identity and informed every encounter and experience I had.
Then I found the internet. Halleluja! I found blogs and articles from people who felt the same way I did and this gave me the hope that things could change – and more, that things could change in my favour! And so I am learning self love and self acceptance. But letting go is harder than I hoped. How do you let go of something that has been the basis of your identity for over fifty years? If that goes, then what is left? And actually, how do you let that go? It feels like all of me is woven into that belief – like a mat in the earth that has the roots of the grass and plants so entwined in it that it has become part of them.
Well, I’m hanging on to the ‘everything changes’ theory and directing my change. Sometimes it feels like I’m getting nowhere and other times (like last week) it feels like I’m making huge big leaps. But I’m aware now. I’m more able to understand that resistance, suffering, anger and judgement are expressions of an unmet need and I can examine them and learn from them – and you, lucky reader – get to go through all of it with me!
So, I still believe that everything is impermanent unless we choose otherwise. And Teresa – I hope this answers your question!