Adjusting to the Impermanence of Life

Death in Yellowstone

Posted Nov 02, 2011

When I was vacationing in Yellowstone, a bear attacked a married couple, killing the husband and seriously injuring the wife.  This was the first time something of this nature had happened in over 25 years.  Additionally, while I was there, I noticed that there were numerous signs posted near the many geysers and hot springs stating that if you strayed from the path, you risked falling into one and dying.  These signs had been paid for by the family of a 9-year-old boy who had indeed done so and died.  Of course, these are both very sad stories.

How do these melancholy anecdotes relate to happiness?  Let us examine the concept of impermanence.  We could be enjoying a romantic hike or be on vacation with our family and our loved one could die in a freak accident.  These are extreme cases, but this sort of thing does occur.  We all know people who have experienced tragedy in their lives, perhaps even us.  If we don't learn to roll with life, to adjust to the constant changes, then we are going to suffer.  Life is impermanent and life is bound to change!  No matter what is happening in our lives right now, it's going to change.  Nearly 50% of the married couples in America today will get divorced.  Many of us will develop a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease.  The average person in the United States will have six different jobs over the course of a lifetime.  Impermanence is an absolute guarantee in life! 

Two Choices in When Dealing with Change

There are two choices regarding how to address life's changes, one good for us and the other bad.  Let's begin by perceiving life's changes as wounds.  From time to time in life, we may get a small wound.  We can wash and treat this cut and let it mend.  Doing so may be painful, but it will result in a healthy healing process.  Or, we can simply take pain killers.  The deeper the cut is, the stronger the pain killers will have to be.  We can go on blissfully with our lives, not feeling the cut.  However, if we do this, the cut will surely get infected and will ultimately kill us.  Unfortunately, most of us turn to "pain killers" instead of washing out our wound, dealing with the change, and moving on.

We can do well when life presents a change, even a tragic one, as long as we are willing to adjust to the change, feel it, and then move forward.  To adjust to life's changes in a healthy way, we must allow ourselves to feel our feelings, get involved with support groups, talk to people, seek therapy, and truly deal with the sadness and anger involved.  However, many of us turn to the "pain killers" instead of dealing with our feelings.  In addition to alcohol or drug related addictions, there are other, more subtle ones.  We throw ourselves into our work, or we become addicted to television, barely leaving the couch.  We immediately dive into another relationship, or we start eating excessively.  The list of what people do instead of dealing with life's changes in a healthy way is infinite. 

How to Flow with Life's Changes

Most of us don't adjust well to life's impermanence.  However, if we realize at a deep level that life is impermanent and that there's nothing we can do to get around this fact, we truly will be better off.  We must flow with life, adjust to change well, and realize, Nothing that I have in this world is a guarantee.  Just as the family who lost their child at Yellowstone, pain and tragedy can be turned into something wonderful and something that can help others.  This family is proof that we can adjust to anything and still find beauty and meaning in life

Change happens to everyone.  We need to feel, adjust, and then make the most of what life has given us.  Wallowing in self-blame won't help.  Yes, we may have been the cause of the change, but blaming ourselves won't help us to adapt to the change.  We can adjust to anything as long as we are willing to let go of our belief that life has to go a certain way.  Let's promise that no matter what life has thrown at us or will throw at us, we will adjust.  We won't be self-critical, we won't stay stuck.  We'll feel the feelings of loss and sadness, and then we'll move on and make the most of our lives with what we have.  When we adapt to change, life will proceed much better; when we numb it, life will be more difficult in the long run.  We must choose to adapt, because doing so will facilitate a beautiful, full life.