The Insight of Impermanence

The Insight of Impermanence

Discussion date: Thu, Aug 17, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

There have been significant changes in my life over the past two years. I have a new life partner and I am away from my Kent Island, Maryland home regularly, traveling and exploring in my RV and living part-time with my beloved in East Texas.

In addition, my daughter and her two children, ages eight and six, temporarily are living with me as they transition to a new home. My very quiet household shifted to a home that is full of energy, activity and four additional humans. When I am away from home I feel challenged to stay connected with my big family in Maryland. If I speak in dualistic terms, these are all positive changes, but changes nonetheless.

As a result, I have been feeling “off-kilter” and unsteady. I have been referring to my unsettled state as a transition. I recently realized that I expected to return to a place of “no change.” What a realization! What a myth!

I know from my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), that impermanence is the one thing in life that I can be sure of. Change makes life possible, and yet my thoughts have been stuck in the myth of permanence. Thay writes in The Art of Living:

We may agree with the truth of impermanence, and yet we still behave as though everything is permanent, and that is the problem. This is what prevents us from taking the opportunities available to us right now to act to change a situation, or to bring happiness to ourselves and others. With the insight of impermanence, you won’t wait. You’ll do everything you can to make a difference, to make the person you love happy, and to live the kind of life you would like to live.  The Buddha offered the contemplation on impermanence not for us to treasure as a notion, but for us to get the insight of impermanence by applying it to our daily life. There’s a difference between a notion and an insight.

Say we strike a match to get a flame. As soon as the flame manifests, it begins to consume the match. The notion of impermanence is like the match, and the insight of impermanence is like the flame. As the flame manifests, it consumes the match, which we don’t need anymore. What we need is the flame, not the match. We’re making use of the notion of impermanence to get the insight of impermanence.

We can make the insight of impermanence into a living insight that is with us in every moment. The insight of impermanence has the power to liberate

Instead of fighting against change and struggling to get back to stasis, I have a new intention. I want to use my energy to enjoy the shifts, the adventure of the changes in my life.

Change is all around and in me. Thay expresses this beautifully in The Art of Living:

Our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are changing from one moment to the next. Every second, the cells in our body as well as our feelings, perceptions, ideas and states of mind, are giving way to new ones.

What I can count on is “this moment.” When I feel waves of anxiety or unsteadiness, I bring my attention to my breath. I bring my attention to my body. I notice what I feel connected to “right now.” It may be the sound of my loved ones in the next room; the fan in my room, bringing a cool breeze; or the sensations in my feet as I walk on this precious earth.

Thay’s calligraphy is a helpful reminder:

Freedom is available to me, right here, in this very moment.  I don’t have to wait. I am grateful for this deeper understanding of impermanence, as an insight and a teacher. May we all continue to grow our insight of impermanence.

This Thursday, after our meditation, we will explore the insight of impermanence. We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions.

  • Are the changes you are seeing and feeling in your life right now making you feel off-kilter?
  • What helps you to come back to yourself, back to this moment?
  • How do you feel about impermanence in the context of your life?

Below is another excerpt from The Art of Living.

With gratitude and love,

Linda Jackson

From The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Impermanence is a noun describing the nature of something—whether it’s a flower, a star, your loved one, or your own body. But we shouldn’t think that impermanence happens only to the outer appearance, and that inside there is something everlasting. Impermanence means that nothing can remain the same thing in two consecutive moments. So in fact there is no lasting “thing” that we can call impermanent; it’s semantically absurd to say “everything is impermanent.” The truth is that everything is only for one brief instant.

Suppose we contemplate the flickering flame of a candle. At first, it seems that there is one continuous flame, but in fact what we are seeing is a multitude of flames succeeding each other. From one millisecond to the next, new flames are manifesting from new non-flame elements, including oxygen and fuel. And the flame is radiating light and heat in all directions. Input and output are going on all the time. The flame we see now is not exactly the same as the flame we saw a moment ago, nor is it entirely different. In the same way, we too are always changing. Our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are changing from one moment to the next. Every second, the cells in our body, as well as our feelings, perceptions, ideas, and states of mind, are giving way to new ones.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Aug 17, 2023