“What a beautiful and what a healing mystery it is that from contemplating, continually and fearlessly, the truth of change and impermanence, we slowly find ourselves face to face with gratitude and joy, with the truth of the changeless, with the truth of deathless, and an unending nature of mind.”
– Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of the Living & Dying
From our moment of birth, we begin this earthly journey outlined with immense opportunity. We have the world at our fingertips: slowly grasping the ability to learn, grow, and develop into a capable human being. Life has its own unique persona; often individualized to the person experiencing its day-to-day joys. Ultimately, we are the creator of this bountiful adventure.
The journey itself is limitless, yes, but it is not permanent.
One day, we will wake up to find our once “vast opportunities” have dwindled. We will find ourselves incapable of doing the things we took for granted – some of them simple, others more complex. The personalized privilege to plan our day-to-day adventures now appear to be impossible. Instead, we lay there in a state of self-contemplation: reflecting on our life, our choices, and our relationships over the years. When death is called, we are struck by the intimidating idea of impermanence: the end of our human experience and the beginning of death’s ambiguity. None of us will experience death’s truth until our life is completed. At this point in time, no living person knows the inner workings of this mysterious, ethereal future.
In final moments of self-contemplation, what takes importance as we reflect on our life’s choices?
What is defined as “important” and “not important” is decided upon by the individual. We want to avoid living our final moments in a state of regret. When we encompass the theory of impermanence, we truly choose to live moment-to-moment. Impermanence allows us to understand in order to live fully, we must remember nothing in our life is permanent. Thus, everything will be taken away (from us) upon meeting death. A morbid thought to most, but to some, a precious understanding of life’s brief fragility.
Since we are bringing awareness to life’s diminishing state, it’s noble to examine our current actions towards others. From a personal perspective, I often witness people’s interactions with one another, in particular, through their moments of disagreement. Commonly, we express anger and choose language reflecting our feelings with harsh verbosity. We make an emotional decision to be catty, upset, and condemning. In this moment, we are not speaking from a place of understanding, but from a place of our anger. The feelings of anger promptly cultivate a series of miscommunications. This form of communication leaves the other person hurt and thus, accomplishes nothing but an egotistical victory.
Think about this – If this person passed away before you apologized, how would you feel? What if their life journey ended much sooner than anticipated? You would be haunted by remorse and regret until the day you pass. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
When we practice the idea of impermanence, we are mindful about our communication towards others. If we make an effort to consciously be aware that someone can be taken away at any moment, we would selectively choose a form of mindful communication. We would avoid lashing out at a friend and choose to see their point of view from a place of understanding. Is it really worth losing someone you love over a series of miscommunications? Although it’s difficult, choosing forgiveness is easier than leaving this earth with unspoken words. Through mindful communication and the lingering idea of impermanence, there is a simple solution to solving miscommunications – choosing to listen from a place of understanding and non judgement.
Choose to be kind and practice forgiveness - even when it appears to be emotionally impossible. You will thank yourself in the latter years. Remember, facing regret and remorse is not an easy feat.
In turn, choosing to recognize life’s receding timeline creates a profound shift on what takes priority. Through impermanence, we choose to practice non attachment to objects, and discover a simple richness to life. The realization that we can take nothing into the death’s unknowingness places significant importance on human relationships. What truly matters is: who we love, how we love, and finding love in every moment. The earth’s beauty can be appreciated simply by means of the heart. For example, we can appreciate a flower by observing its beauty without disturbing its growth. When we consciously remind ourselves of impermanence during our floral observation, it makes the flower even more precious: a subtle yet humbling reminder that like us, this flower’s beauty/existence is not permanent.
In retrospect, living from a place of love is a beautiful existence. Love is healing, soothing, and all forgiving. You might be thinking – this sounds similar to the description of something omnipotent or a “god-like and universal” - aha, you’re correct.
Where there is love, there is the Universe, and where there is the Universe, there is a rich life.
Loving fully and deeply plays into the idea of impermanence. The knowingness that everyone we love has an end, like us, makes relationships incredibly sacred. Living through the heart is a beautiful way to live life. In my eyes, nobody has ever wasted their time by loving too hard. Through the eyes of love, everything is presented as beautiful.
Sadly, remembering life’s impermanence (with a hint of love) will not prevent us from encountering pain and suffering. Luckily, it allows us to refocus our energy towards using pain as a teacher. Instead of resorting to anger, it’s easier to view pain as a lesson and like everything else, remembering it is not permanent. A beautiful reflection on pain and impermanence is illustrated here by Sogyal Rinpoche:
“Just as the waves lash at the shore, the rocks suffer no damage but are sculpted into beautiful shapes, so our characters can be molded and our rough edges smoothed by changes. Through weathering changes, we can learn how to develop an unshakeable yet gentle composure. Our confidence in ourselves grows, and becomes so much greater that goodness and compassion begin naturally to radiate out from us and bring joy to others. … So each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height, there is only one possible place to land – on the ground of truth.”
The lessons of pain bring us closer to the truth: we can always learn from our pain and use it as a source of inner strength. The new lessons formed bring us closer to love by opening a new place of understanding.
We should always consciously remember life’s fragility. Impermanence reminds us everything solid and stable is bound to disappear. The realization of this “emptiness” is not one of sadness, but one of newfound hope. Looking at life from this “dream like” perspective makes our days slightly more magical. We are all in this beautiful dream together AND for a short period of time.
This sentiment regarding life “dream like” quality is expressed by Rinpoche below:
“ Always recognize the dreamlike qualities of life and reduce the attachment and aversion. Practice good heartedness towards all human beings. Be loving and compassionate, no matter what others do to you. What they will do will not matter so much when you see it as a dream. The trick is to have positive intentions during the dream. This is the essential point.”
During our grand adventure, what takes priority is our ability to love. Love lives on, much like the soul, even when the body has expressed its final sentiments. Choose your daily actions with the lingering idea of impermanence in mind. Life is fleeting, but we have the tools to make it extremely sacred.
And again, don’t forget to love.
** Authors Note **
This piece was intended to cultivate self-reflection on how we treat one another and how we spend our life on earth. If death is an anxiety trigger, then I apologize. It is a topic I have been asked to write about by many…
Ultimately, I want readers to remember that life is fragile and fleeting. When we remember this, we can change the way we speak and treat people in our world. Please be kind to those you love – your friends and your family. You might not get a tomorrow.
Another note - It is not worthy to keep people in your life who illuminate toxicity. Forgive them for your own peace, not for a space in your life.