Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wrestling With Impermanence

Living with impermanence is one of my greatest challenges. I accept the idea that all forms that are born must die. Seeds must break for plants to grow and plants must decay for new plants to sprout. The circle of life is a palatable image that depicts continuation through change. It offers a certain level of peace and connection.

What boggles my mind and rattles my bones is the direct, sensory experience of impermanence. It started a number of years ago when formless silence became the backdrop and essence of every thought, word, gesture and environment. What I had encountered as solid and separate, I now experienced as transparent and unified. The world that had been firm ground supporting isolated objects and beings became a vast fluid space. Objects and beings flowed within it like waves within an ocean. This ocean had no substance, yet the waves of form rising and falling within it were actually more vivid than they had been in the old solid ground world.

Within this fluid cosmos, impermanence became the tangible experience of transparency within formlessness. Impermanence was no longer the process of a seed, becoming a tree, producing fruit that became a seed. It became all things dissolving into transparent formlessness as soon as they appeared. My thoughts, words and actions became the equivalent of writing on water. They certainly had their effects, but they disappeared into formlessness as soon they were born.

Strangely, my mind was and is unable to understand or fully accept this impossible paradox. It clings to its notions that there is cause and effect, that individual lives have an understandable meaning and purpose. My mind knows the spiritual explanations for the type of impermanence I have described, but it doesn't buy them. It still looks for ways to resolve the puzzle of formless forms.

Living this contradiction has turned my work from goal oriented tasks to being the conduit through which life makes offerings to itself through me. This is not my choice. It's just what is happening and it feels better to acknowledge it and willingly participate.

Still, my mind clings, like a dog to its bone, to a shred of hope that it can figure this thing out. On good days, it seems like an organic process that will eventually burn through this resistance. On other days, my body-mind rage against the formless-forms it finds itself inhabiting. It battles a futile war to establish solid ground in infinite formlessness. On yet other days, my body-mind knows that formlessness will eventually bleach transparency through its bones and thoughts and another unimaginable reality will dawn. Impermanence will have its way beyond what the body-mind thinks.


  1. Anthony,
    This is such a beautiful expression of one of the central struggles of my own life as well. Impermanence eludes my intellectual understanding even as it is what my body knows to be true at some soul level. Beyond just being unable to quite grasp what it means (like a dream that is sort of but not exactly remembered), I also wrestle painfully with the reality of every single day being an end, an irrecoverable loss. I'm keenly aware of the passage of time and wish I could be less so; I feel I spend more time than I wish I did mourning what will never come again.
    Thanks, again, for your thoughtful, gorgeous words. xo

  2. This is so right on: "My mind knows the spiritual explanations for the type of impermanence I have described, but it doesn't buy them. It still looks for ways to resolve the puzzle of formless forms."

    I really appreciate you sharing all this and also by doing so, you allow, the space for others like me, to feel so normal, not just normal but welcome.

    Marco Rojas in yoga is always saying, we must must must learn how to die every instant to feel infinity. So, when we are literally "dying" in a pose, and angry at him for holding it so long and sweating or whatever, he humorously says: "you are right. i want you to die. so you can let go. be born. now. not in some other month or year."

    it is as if we must psychically train our bodies of the experience of impermanence you describe. it isn't enough to understand it just spiritually.

    so illuminating.

    thank you.


  3. I recognize your experience. I believe our minds are limited in capacity, so it's only in the suspension of mind that we can glimpse. Thank you for your writing and reminders.