The Value of ImpermanencePhoto by: Eliza King

The Value of Impermanence

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 02, 2016 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water friends,

As you may know, our Still Water Thursday night sittings are moving to a new location in Silver Spring this summer after many years. Last week, after our usual Dharma discussion, we carried all our mats and cushions to a temporary space until the new space is ready for us. I found myself resisting this change, dwelling on the lovely view of the trees outside our window and the warm orange color of the walls in our old space. I have fond memories of meeting new people who have become friends, and the connections and insights discovered with my fellow practitioners in that room. While the rest of my life seems to be in constant flux, I’ve basked in the stability and continuity of our weekly sittings. And now, this too, is changing. I realized that I was struggling with impermanence.


Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the insight of impermanence in his book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:


Understanding impermanence can give us confidence, peace, and joy. Impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. Without impermanence, life could not be. Without impermanence, your daughter could not grow up into a beautiful young lady. Without impermanence, oppressive political regimes would never change. We think impermanence makes us suffer. The Buddha gave the example of a dog that was hit by a stone and got angry at the stone. It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.


Thay discusses the value of impermanence as making us more careful about our health and more loving to those around us, as a way of respecting that good health and the people we love are subject to life’s changes. I especially resonate with Thay’s reminder that if we only think of impermanence as a concept, than we won’t be able to translate this insight into our daily lives. 


This week, I have consciously been working with my breathing when I witness my resistance and fear of change arising. I know from the practice that when I am able to be with my emotions, holding them gently, they often will dissipate into another form. What a relief to feel in my body that even negative emotions are impermanent! I notice that when I can shift my focus to being grateful for the beauty around me, my peonies blooming, the vibrant colors of butterflies at a nearby nature center, the heartfelt connections I have with the people in my life, the persistent fear is crowded out by gratitude and love. The hard part, as always, is to practice and remember to bring myself back to what is present all around me. 


This Thursday at 7 pm, in our temporary space down the hall from our old room, we will explore what arises in us when faced with impermanence, sharing with each other how we have learned to work with our old habits and difficult emotions in times of change. You are warmly invited to join us! Because this is the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community at 6:30 pm. Participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at An additional reading on impermanence by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.


Many blessings,

Eliza King 

Thich Nhat Hanh on impermanence, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

The First Dharma Seal is impermanence. The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent — flowers, tables, mountains, political regimes, bodies, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We cannot find anything that is permanent. Flowers decompose, but knowing this does not prevent us from loving flowers. In fact, we are able to love them more because we know how to treasure them while they are still alive. If we learn to look at a flower in a way that impermanence is revealed to us, when it dies, we will not suffer. Impermanence is more than an idea. It is a practice to help us touch reality.

When we study impermanence we have to ask, “Is there anything in this teaching that has to do with my daily life, my daily difficulties, my suffering?” If we see impermanence as merely a philosophy, it is not the Buddha’s teaching. Every time we look or listen, the object of our perception can reveal to us the nature of impermanence. We have to nourish our insight into impermanence all day long.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 02, 2016


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