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The Only Constant is Change

100,000 Dead: The Immediacy of Impermanence

An American diplomat in Myanmar (formerly Burma) today reported that, in the wake of the recent cyclone, the death toll in that country is likely to reach 100,000. This estimate has been confirmed by both French and U.N. aid workers.

Change can happen in an instant. It is the only constant. Situations like that in Myanmar remind us of this on a grand scale, but it is because of this grand scale that the impact may be lost on us personally. Impermanence is something that we rarely think about; confronting impermanence is, in fact, something that we typically avoid. It is often only in the wake of some tragedy in our own lives that we are forced to confront it at all.

The Buddhist wisdom teachings talk about "little deaths", suggesting that every experience of change that we have is a reflection of the greatest of all impermanences - death. As we typically neither confront impermanence, nor the grief with which it is associated, when we do experience one of the more sweeping changes in life -- death, divorce, marriage, moving, losing a job -- it can be quite overwhelming.

Everything in nature occurs in cycles, including human experience. If we bring this notion to bear, we begin to see that change is not only necessary, but inevitable. With this in hand, we can then develop a sense of equanimity and balance -- first in our daily lives, then within the scope of our larger experience. This can take the charge, or more pointedly the fear, out of our lives, without devoiding us of our emotional experience. This, then, brings greater authenticity to that emotional experience because we are able to respond to what is happening around us without being a slave to the noise of our internal dialogue.

By choosing to regard human experience as a matter of course, rather than a collection of individual linear events that we label as ‘good' or ‘bad', we actually end up magnifying our own humanity and increasing our connection to ourselves, our loved ones, and our world. We get to feel our feelings, instead of just freaking out.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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