- Changes in our lives are inevitable but sometimes unsettling.
- Look around and recognize the relative stability of so many things.
- The more we recognize impermanence, the more we can take refuge in the good that lasts.
So many things change. Leaves fall, friends move away, and children leave home. My dad died, and my mom about 10 years before that. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting older (darn, there is no fooling the mirror).
Changes All Around Us
The world changes, too. Evolving technologies alter jobs and lives. Elections happen, and different people take charge. New restaurants open while others close.
The experience itself is always changing, right at the front edge of now. So are the neural substrates of this moment’s experience, fleeting coalitions of millions of synapses coming into being even as they disperse, while the molecular structures of individual synapses themselves are dynamically constructing and deconstructing in the blink of an eye.
It’s kind of unsettling! Especially if things you care about are changing for the worse at any scale, from a big scratch on a table because someone dropped a plate on it (that was me a few days ago) to a factory closing to the chilling title of an article in Science magazine: “Ecological selectivity of the emerging mass extinction in the oceans.”
All around and under our noses, so many good things last. Recognizing them lifts the heart, and enjoying them for at least a few seconds in a row helps turn passing experiences into lasting psychological resources woven into your own brain—which, among other benefits, makes you more able to deal with things that are changing for the worse.
Look around and see things you like that were here yesterday—and maybe here many years ago as well. For me writing, this includes a desk, a collage on the wall that I made a long time ago that continues to guide me, and trees and hills seen through a window. As you look around, recognize the relative stability of so many things. Sure, most, if not all, will pass away eventually—the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, so “in the long run” is really l-o-n-g—but for all practical purposes, there is so much lasting good literally within reach of your hands and feet right now.
As you see what lasts, take a few moments to get a sense of its still-being-here-for-you-ness, its reliability, and its trustworthiness. Allow a natural sense of reassurance, perhaps relief, to emerge. Perhaps a calming, a relaxing, a sense of the security of those things that are stable. Notice anxious doubts if they come up, and let them change and pass away, knowing that the future will be whatever it is, but, meanwhile, whatever good that is true is really actually true right now.
Consider people in your life and the good that’s lasting there. Friendships, goodwill toward you, your own love for others. It’s ongoing, persistent, and factual. Especially if you tend toward feeling insecure in relationships, keep returning to the sense of real caring stably flowing toward you while your own compassion, kindness, and basic decency keep extending to others. Take in the good of this security of wholesome relatedness, receiving it into yourself like a warm, soothing balm.
Consider the good in your past. It will always have been good, even if it is here no longer. Your own accomplishments, personal disasters avoided, crazy good fun times with friends, the ripples of your own sincere efforts, large and small—nothing at all can ever erase what actually happened.
How about the durable good inside you? Talents and skills, moral values, neat quirks, so much knowledge: It’s all real. Enjoy the felt recognition of it, like savoring the sight of beautiful art and jewels in your own personal treasure chest.
See the durability of life itself. It’s been going on locally on our planet for at least 3.5 billion years. Things have changed and will change, and I am not trying to minimize bad changes, especially those involving human hands.
Still, life will keep going in one form or another as long as the Earth keeps going (which should be at least a few more billion years, until our sun gradually expands and becomes a red giant, swallowing up Mercury, Venus, and us—but that’s a while from now).
Broadly, each of us is a local wave, rippling here and now in the vast sea of our universe. All waves come and go, but the sea as the sea endures.
And, if it’s meaningful for you as it is for me, you could recognize and enjoy whatever is not subject to arising and passing away, that which is eternal, unconditioned, transcendental, by whatever name we give it or no name at all.
Enjoy it all. The more we recognize impermanence, the more we can take refuge in the good that lasts.
As Raymond Carver wrote:
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.