When I look around at the civilization that we have built as humans, I see it crumbling. I see abandoned buildings retaken by the earth, vines weaving in and out of windows and door frames, mossy, earth eaten walls. I see cracked and distorted highways and crumbling sidewalks. I look within my own home and I see the small consequences of daily life chipping away at tabletops and wallpaper. I see clogged pipes and burnt out bulbs. The constant repairs, the consistent yet futile attempts to prolong the inevitable. The frustrating struggle to keep an impermanent structure, permanent.
These are the most important differences between what mother earth has created and what we have. Nothing is wasted or caving in on itself in nature. The earth moves as a single organism absorbing the old to give birth to new systems and structures in a beautiful ever changing cycle. I can remember having a morbid thought once as a child as I looked out the car window over the acres and acres of headstones on the hillside. Won’t all the land be graveyards eventually? While I no longer think we will allow cemeteries to cover the earth, I do think I was on to something. The earth does slowly become more and more of a human wasteland every day. As we rapidly consume and discard, our garbage remains and multiplies. Even our homes are reclaimed by nature in time.
Impermanence is something that we have all but disregarded as a species. It is something I personally struggle with everyday. We want things to remain the same, to remain constant and predictable. Still our best efforts lead only to stagnation and slow decay. We are unwilling or unable to accept that nothing lasts forever. Instead of learning how to better situate ourselves within this system, we have endeavored to resist it. It’s an endless source of anxiety for me to know one day I’ll have to buy another new laptop, new clothes, new shoes, new windows and shingles. To clean off the kitchen counter every single day, to vacuum the house knowing tomorrow it will be covered in cat fur yet again. The ultimate decay and transformation of death is perhaps what I’m truly fearing, what we are all desperately trying to avoid and deny by our unmoving creations.
Our efforts to ignore and avoid life’s natural cycle of death, also prevent us from experiencing the beauty of growth and rebirth. Impermanence isn’t only something that exists outside of us in the physical world. Our spiritual selves, our mental and emotional needs, are also subject to constant change. I have a tendency to hold on to my habits and routines until long after they have stopped serving me. I lament to think about the fact that I’ll need to keep tweaking and adjusting my behavior as my inner and outer worlds endlessly change. How can we ever expect to accept the natural cycles of nature, when we cannot even accept our own inner cycles?
When I come up with a new productive habit or self-care routine I am usually delighted and fully satisfied by it for a few months. Each time I think to myself, “Aha! I’ve finally found it. This is the thing I’ve been looking for to make me feel happy and help me grow.” I’ll cling to this “perfect formula” I’ve discovered even once it no longer brings me the same peace and joy. I berate myself for once again growing distracted and disinterested, instead of adjusting or coming up with a new habit that better serves the new me that is ever emerging. It feels overwhelming to even consider constantly having to contemplate and concoct new systems within my own life. Yet I don’t know exactly what it is I’m imagining my time would be better spent on. What could be more important and fulfilling than learning to read and respect my own inner journey and tend to my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs? In some ways, that’s what this life is all about.
We plan and construct our lives and our world with the unspoken assumption that things will remain constant. We’ve never learned how to shape our aspirations and intentions to be flexible and temporary. We are a rigid and unrelenting species. I personally am no different. Even so, I hope that I can learn to practice, allow, and accept impermanence in the world, in my life, and within myself. We can never hope to overcome or resist this ever changing system we are a part of, attempting to do so only leads to frustration, disappointment, and ruin. We are numbing ourselves to the beauty and potential that will inevitably emerge from the ashes we are so desperate to prevent.