Like many people, I go through days and weeks, and sometimes even months, of feeling down. Just generally off. Sometimes I can pinpoint the specific reason. Other times, I can’t. Either way, though, it’s not a great feeling, and it can often feel overwhelming and endless. Because despite how many gratitude listings, meditation sessions and walks in the sunshine I would do, I still can’t seem to shake it.
All that changed when I discovered the Buddhist teaching of impermanence. Though I still have those days of feeling sad and de-motivated, my view of them has now changed.
So, what exactly is impermanence? “Buddha taught us everything in life changes,” Sally Kellett, a meditation teacher and founder of Mirosuna, an online wellness hub and mindfulness studio told The Latch. “This is the essence of impermanence: that nothing is permanent in life — all things change.”
While it sounds obvious — “duh, of course, everything in life changes” you might be thinking — it’s an idea that can easily be forgotten when you’re on a high and everything’s going swimmingly or going through those ‘down days’ in life.
“In testing times, impermanence consoles us and offers us hope for change,” Kellett says. “In times of joy, impermanence reminds us to express gratitude for the moment, with the appreciation that everything is susceptible to change.”
While Kellett trained with Buddhist nuns in a monastery in Vietnam, she now lives in Melbourne, worlds away from remote mountain living, and so can understand the challenge of outside factors distracting us from our practising of impermanence. Ahead, however, she shares practical ways to incorporate it into our lives.
Learn to Love Without Being Attached
“When we are attached to things in life, we grasp onto them as if they won’t change. But that isn’t love. When we don’t allow room within us to accept that all things must change, we inevitably will become sad or disappointed when that thing changes or disappears.
“My Buddhist teacher gave me the example of your child growing up and at 18, they say they want to leave home and travel the world. While the attachment part of us discourages them to go because we will miss them, the other part of us that acts from a place of love says to the child, ‘go and explore the world’, knowing that their experiences will better them as a person.
“Any longing to preserve something is attachment. Buddha taught that attachment just leads to suffering. Always act from a place of love.”
Take Solace in Impermanence During the Bad Times
“When you are experiencing something bad, know that the law of impermanence teaches us that all will change, including your situation. It can get better. You have the power to change your life and this suffering that you are experience, is not forever.”
Cherish Every Moment, Knowing It Won’t Last Forever
“Impermanence teaches us to be extremely grateful for all the big and little things. It’s easy to say we’re grateful for the more obvious things but embodying gratitude and applying it into our lives is a very different practice. For example, we know that our relationships are changing every moment with our family, partners and friends. We are all getting older and people won’t be around forever.
“So embracing impermanence is being extremely grateful for the relationships that we do have right now in our lives and showing that gratitude by doing acts of kindness for ourselves and others. Touching base with those you love most, doing the things that spark joy in your life, helping the less fortunate and making a commitment to live mindfully every day, making the most out of your own life, too.”
Grieve, But Don’t Be Shocked
“A lot of the times, people ask me, ‘if we just accept death and impermanence, then does that mean we can’t be sad when we lose something we love?’
“By understanding and embracing impermanence, it doesn’t stop us from grieving, but it does stop the shock, which is an early stage in grieving. When we lose something or someone, we can be very overwhelmed with emotions and question Why did this happen, or why did we lose them?
“I know my mother asked herself for years: why did my dad pass away young? But I shared with her that life and death don’t have a set time. We don’t know when we will lose people or things so we just need to learn that things can come and go very quickly and to make the most of each and every moment while we have it.”
Meditate on It
“It’s easy to understand concepts theoretically but Buddhist monks and nuns train their whole lives to embody true impermanence and therefore even though we have little time in our day, we can try to find a small moment to reflect on these very important key lessons in life to ultimately help us live with more peace, purpose and perspective.”