Wisdom//

Impermanence: Awakening to the Present Moment

Between the uncertainties of the pandemic and the wildfires in California, I've been reminded that we truly don’t know what this moment means in the grand scheme of things.

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Piti Tangchawalit/ Shutterstock
Piti Tangchawalit/ Shutterstock

I woke up to once again to a white sky in California. In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought with it the loss of life, jobs, and resources, now our air is thick with smoke from the wildfires that rage on in every direction.

This moment can be one of despair and suffering for many of us. A concept I find very useful in times of suffering is the teaching of impermanence. I like this concept so much I almost tattooed it on my body, but alas, that urge was also impermanent. 

Impermanence is defined as the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time. Impermanence is reminder that all comes to an end. All is temporary. All passes one way or another.  When it comes to those events we judge as bad or negative, impermanence gives us hope that they too shall pass. When it comes to those events we judge as good or positive. Well, those pass too, and so impermanence reminds us to appreciate them while they’re with us. 

I say “judge” because we tend to become very judgmental of situations as we experience them. When we experience a situation as negative, we want it to pass. But we want it to pass because we judged the situation to be negative. And maybe it isn’t negative. Maybe we just don’t know what this moment brings, how this moment changes us, or what it can awaken in us. 

So what would happen, if we suspended judgement of this present moment?

I’ve come back to this Chinese proverb time and time again when faced with suffering and judgements of the present moment.

A farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away.

A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.”

The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

The horse comes back and brings

another horse with him.

“Good news!” said the people.

“Good news, bad news, who knows?” replied the farmer.

The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor.

“Good news, bad news, who knows?” the farmer replies.

A week later, the emperor’s commanders come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to walk around saying: “Good news, bad news, who knows?” and stay open to the present moment. Instead of defaulting to judging each moment as good or bad, there’s a chance to rest in the question. We truly don’t know what this moment means in the grand scheme of things, and we can train ourselves to say: This just is. This is what this present moment has in store for us right now. And whether we judge it, or not, like it, or not, tolerate it or not, it will pass. 

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