Naturally, every experience that you ever have will come to an end. All people you have ever known will eventually die. All things you have ever laid your eyes on will perish. To some people, this is terrifying. To me, there’s nothing more freeing. But why is that?
Life is a short window, and everything is always in a state of transition. A whole lot of pain is created by holding onto things that are inevitably shifting out of your life. Accepting that all things perish takes a huge burden off you, and allows you to see life in a bigger picture way: One where you can enjoy the ride because let’s face it. You don’t have much to lose.
So you have two options. Hold on for dear life until the suffering becomes too much to bear, or surrender to the unknown and allow your experience on Earth to be one hell of a journey. I know what makes me feel a whole lot better, but what about you?
What is impermanence?
Impermanence is a law of the universe where all experiences will inevitably come to an end. This doctrine is central to Buddhism, and teaches us a valuable lesson: Stop and smell the roses because those roses won’t be there forever.
As holding on can cause a lot of pain, the teachings of impermanence are about letting things go in their own time without needlessly holding on or causing a forcing current within your life.
Everything in this reality is impermanent as the phenomenon of life and death extends to all things. All life will be recycled into the universe. All stars will eventually burn out. The universe itself will come to a close, so nothing, regardless of how big or small can escape impermanence.
The problem of impermanence?
While some people refer to this phenomenon as the existential problem of impermanence, I emphatically reject this statement. If you think impermanence is a problem, then you’re approaching it from a very Westernized, materialistic standpoint.
Impermanence, if seen through the right frame, is a very liberating law of the universe. Thinking about everything passing might fill you with existential dread. But existence being a temporary phenomenon makes you realize that there’s no point in taking life so seriously.
Thinking about life through a frame of impermanence creates space for a beautiful way of life where each and every moment, experience, and thing are just tiny glimpses of an endless current. This doesn’t discern good or bad, right or wrong, success or failure. Through this lens, everything is precious because everything is limited.
Impermanence is positive because it provides true equality and egalitarianism to life. This means that all suffering will end. All horror that is experienced is ultimately short-lived. The impermanency of life means there’s an ultimate egalitarianism of life because all life will begin and end humbly.
Impermanence in practice: Applying nonattachment to everyday life
Impermanence is a part of everything. As with the cycle of growth and decay, all things in your life will perish too. For example, your favorite jacket or bag will eventually be worn down until it breaks. It’s only going to last for so long until no amount of repairs will fix it. All things will have their service for a time until they no longer do.
Otherwise, if you have parted ways with someone, instead of desperately holding on and wishing for them to give you a call, realize that your time is up and it’s time to move forward with your life. Of course, grieve and go through the motions, but allow yourself to organically move on when it’s time.
Society is constantly changing. Holding onto your old ways might work for a while, but eventually, those old ways will become redundant. You need to change and adapt. Unless you’re a hermit who lives as a hunter/gatherer with no technology, life is about adapting. So stay on top of the wave by allowing your life situation to continuously evolve.
Developing nonattachment through impermanence
At the end of the day, you can’t take anything with you to the afterlife, and you might look a little silly trying. Impermanence doesn’t lead to suffering, attachment does. When you’re holding onto something, you’re creating resistance within your life by refusing to let go.
So instead of holding onto your family house, your beloved car, or your favorite item, gracefully let things go when their service is up. Use it as an opportunity to move on to something else and to change up your life a little bit.
Cultivating a healthier view of mortality
Instead of viewing death as an unquestionable horror, I challenge you to look at it in a way that brings you a sigh of relief. Life is the adventure from point A to point B. Sooner or later we all cross that line and leave this world, so how can you see it in a way where it actually makes you feel good?
Even though I love my life and milk every drop of experience out of it, to me death gives me a sense of peace. I know that if my life turns out to be a massive failure, I’ll be happy to pass on to the next experience. If I’m a big success, I’ll leave with a smile on my face knowing I did a good job, but it doesn’t really matter either way.
What matters is that I see death as the turning of a chapter. By no means do I believe it’s the end of experience, not at all. Otherwise, maybe I would be hanging on for life. Death is moving onto a beautiful mystery, and I’m excited to see where that mystery leads after this experience finishes.
This too shall pass
Going through a rough spot in your life? I feel you. Although a painful experience may last a long time (and feel like an eternity), if there’s one thing I can guarantee you, it’s that it will end. Therefore, look at impermanence as a sort of mercy of the universe. You can only be tested so much until you’re given a chance to breathe.
What has become a motto in my life is telling myself that this too shall pass. And guess what? It has always been true! If you’re in a difficult situation, tell yourself that this too shall pass. If you’re in pain, this too shall pass. So at the end of the day, what do you really have to lose? You’re not going to be in pain forever, so might as well fully experience it.
Do what’s within your power, and let go of what isn’t. Try to move the needle in your life to change the situation, but realize that sometimes it’s just a matter of time.
For better or worse
You don’t know where your life is going to take you, it truly is a mystery. But you can either look at that mystery in a frame of uncertainty, or in a way that instills hope.
People fear change because they are afraid of their life situation becoming worse than it already is. After all, nobody really wants that. But sooner or later your situation will change one way or another, so dreading what could be and thinking of the worst case doesn’t do much good. Not like you can avoid it, so why torment yourself?
I find that a better way to look at change is through a lens of optimism. Realize that your situation can get better. You are constantly learning and growing, and you have more tools than you had before. So when things change, think about how the situation could be better than what you have. This optimistic lens really helps develop this outlook.
Developing a frame of nonattachment
The fact that all experiences will come to an end can actually be a beautiful thought. This means that you shouldn’t attach yourself too much to anything, as you realize that the spirit will last, but the physical will not. So what can you do to become less attached to everything within your life?
What do you really value?
Developing a frame of nonattachment is to reevaluate what’s important to you. Instead of revolving your life around accumulating things such as wealth, real estate, popularity, or fame, bring them inwards. Value intrinsic qualities such as your present experience, mindfulness, human connections, adventures, and opportunities.
Once you start to value things that don’t have a physical existence, that’s when your life is going to be a whole lot more wholesome as what you gain will stay with you until the day you die. They’re what makes life meaningful. And even though short, that’s what you should be looking for in life. Meaning, not stuff.
Make the most of this experience
That woman you like? Ask her out. If faced with an awkward rejection, it doesn’t really matter anyway now does it? Your life is going to continue forward. New people will come into it.
But even if you have lived the most boring, sedentary life imaginable, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Soon enough you’re going to die. Everyone you have ever known is going to die. All things will pass and there’s no discrimination there, so it really doesn’t matter.
Embrace life change
Impermanence is inescapable, and all the latching on in the world won’t make a difference. If the law of impermanence teaches you anything, it’s that you need to allow life to transition. Change is inevitable in every form it takes. Stop treating it like the enemy, rather see it as a possible thing, and this will help you a lot
Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. Get out of your comfort zone, pursue new opportunities, live your best life, and milk this experience of life. You’re here for a moment, so might as well enjoy the blink of an eye that you’re here.
Breaking cycles of attachment
I’m a minimalist. I don’t like to have a lot of things because it just adds a lot of clutter to my life. Instead, I like to have the naked essentials because I feel more free. So I would encourage you to minimize, and see how much you really need (and secretly want).
Attachment can be tricky to break. Naturally, we’re going to get attached to things. If it’s not an item, it’s a person. If it’s not a person, it’s a house or a location. You develop nonattachment by allowing everything to organically move in and out of your life. Enjoy it while it lasts, feel it when it goes, and replace it when needed.
Need help on your journey?
I’m Daniel, a spiritual life coach who can help you on your spiritual journey and give you the tools you need to overcome the challenges you face. I’ve been on a nomadic journey since 2016 in search for meaning, and now work closely with shamanic traditions in Ecuador. If you would like some 1 on 1 guidance, follow this link to book a call.