Impermanence


I borrowed my notion of impermanence from the Buddhists, who hold it as one of their essential doctrines. Ironically due to the impermanence of my memory I cannot find a link to the original teaching I read years ago. I will however try and illustrate the concept from a mix of memory and reflection.

On the shores of Inle Lake in Myanmar there are entire villages built upon stilts. My Mother, an intrepid adventurer, kindly provided the above photo of one of these communities. Homes and businesses are only kept from washing away while the stilts still support them.

Relationships are similar in the sense that they are built upon a foundation of metaphorical stilts. We all make friends and as life changes we swear to keep in touch. Do you ever wonder why it doesn’t always happen? The stilts are gone. The relationship you both had didn’t have much support. The first stilt might simply have been that you both went to the same classes. Second could be that you both used the gym at the same time. No matter what the stilts are, as soon as they are gone it is time for our relationship to fall into the lake. Should you feel bad about not keeping in touch? No. But maybe you do.

We can hold up these structures on our backs, I do it, you probably do it though the supports needed for the building are gone. Holding onto parts of life that are fundamentally transient and suffering for it.

Maintaining a relationship when the stilts are long gone costs us emotional energy and ultimately will end the same way holding up a house without support will. Painfully.

Impermanence is the acceptance that things end and that is ok.

“You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” — Heraclitus

I regularly reflect on impermanence. Thinking about what I’m holding on to that is only supported by my unwillingness to let go. Releasing certain environments, relationships, and rituals, is freeing and makes more room for the now.

Emotional energy is an expendable resource. Try not wasting it holding up unsupported structures.