Nothing is permanent. But even though we recognize this fundamental truth, we nonetheless are often surprised when things come to an end – or anxious when they don’t come to an end soon enough.
Impermanence is a concept that can be disturbing or even depressing to many people. After all, we want the good things to continue as long as possible (if not forever).
- We love the newness and emotional high of a new relationship – yet we are dissatisfied when the newness fades into a predictable routine.
- We relish the feelings of calm relaxation while on vacation – yet we replace these feelings with anger when we must deal with the backlog of work when we return.
- We are exhilarated when we are recognized for our professional success – yet we are offended when the people around us forget what we accomplished.
More than anything, we want to be happy in our lives – for as long as possible. And, for some strange reason, we think (or hope) that bad things won’t happen to us.
Even though we regret the impermanence of the good things in our lives, in the height of a particularly challenging “bad” experience, we forget that “this too shall pass.” In fact, when it comes to the bad things in our lives, we want them to end – sooner rather than later!
If nothing else, we humans are paradoxical creatures.
When faced with these inevitable challenges, we tend to revert back to the previous good times and then ask ourselves why these “bad” things are happening to us.
But bad things are just as fundamental to life. In fact, we can’t really cherish the good things in our lives without the counterbalance of the bad.
The good news is that both the good and the bad don’t last forever. By internalizing this basic truth, Buddhists say that we have the key to happiness, mindfulness, and balance.
When we recognize that life is impermanent, it changes our daily decisions and consequent behaviors. When we know that nothing is forever, we are not only better able to weather life’s inevitable challenges, but also cherish every moment that we are alive – because we realize that we, too, will come to an end (hopefully later rather than sooner!).
The practice of mindfulness – the act of being present every minute of our lives – dramatically changes the way we live, work, and love:
- When we recognize that our new relationship will change as time goes on, we better appreciate and are fully present during the good times – we can also bask in the newfound security of growing more comfortable with that person over time.
- When we acknowledge that our calm feelings on vacation will be challenged when we get back to work, we can make the choice to not get angry about the workload that accumulated during our absence – we can even use our emotional memories of that calm relaxation to take us back into that state even if we are bombarded when we return.
- When we are humble in addition to being exhilarated when people recognize our professional success, we also acknowledge that memories are short, life goes on, and we need to continue to move forward toward new goals.
Instead of dwelling in the past or dreaming of the future, realizing that life is impermanent helps us to concentrate our minds on the present moment. Because, after all, the past is but a dream and the future is just an idea, but the present is all that we really have to live our lives to the fullest.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.