Our suffering in uncertain times arises from the mistaken presumption that things are permanent when they are not. Mindfulness practice familiarizes us with impermanence for greater stability and ease through inevitable times of change.
“Impermanence and selflessness are not negative aspects of life, but the very foundation on which life is built. Impermanence is the constant transformation of things. Without impermanence, there can be no life.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh -
Mindfulness and Impermanence
Mindfulness is present moment awareness. When we become deeply aware of our present moment, one thing we notice is that it’s very hard to find. Our present moment and everything in it is constantly changing. Nothing in this world lasts forever, including us.
The realization that all is in flux can provoke anxiety, or we can use it to set ourselves free. It’s normal to fear losing our loved ones and all that we’ve attached to in this life, including ourselves. These attachments are strongest if we believe happiness comes from that which is outside of us. Our friends and family, our new car, our beautiful home, our job title and identity will all someday change. Anything we get is also something we’ll eventually lose.
When we’re trapped in attachment, impermanence leads to fear. Fear of loss may provoke the obsessive accumulation of more people, experiences, and things, or all sorts of unhealthy behaviors in which we try desperately to prevent the world around us from changing. Fighting the truth of impermanence is a losing battle that only leads to suffering. And when we simply forget the truth of impermanence, our surprise and disbelief causes us pain.
Mindfulness practice reminds us there is a better way. With mindfulness, we learn to embrace the fleeting nature of our experience. We recognize the futility of attachment, including attachment to our present moment situation. We realize there’s nothing unchanging we can grasp and hold on to.
By embodying this realization, we become free to let things go. By letting go of what we’re holding on to, we make ourselves available for something more.
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”
- Heraclitus -
The Positive Side of Impermanence
Impermanence is often viewed as an unfortunate truth. Something we have to live with despite the grief it causes. But the more deeply we explore impermanence, the more we realize it’s integral to our happiness and contentment.
Thanks to impermanence, we can grow. We don’t have to remain in our suffering forever. The truth that all things change means they’re capable of changing for the better. Our circumstances can change, and so too can the mind. The beauty is, neither one of these changes first. When we change how we think, perceive and feel, the world around us appears differently.
A wholehearted acceptance of impermanence can also be motivating. When we embrace the truth that there’s no telling how long we have here in our body, we’re inspired to make the most of our time. Ideally, we’re inspired to devote more time to our mindfulness practice. For it’s mindfulness that keeps us from forgetting the truth of impermanence. Living with this truth in mind each moment of every day keeps us present, grateful, joyful and content.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
- Alan Watts -
7 Mindfulness Meditations to Help You Embrace Change
Impermanence doesn’t exist in the far-off future, it’s happening right now. Feelings such as awe, wonder and joy are made possible because there’s no moment just like this one. Meditation helps us go beyond an intellectual understanding of impermanence, and allows us to embrace it with our whole body.
Because everything within our awareness is fleeting, we can meditate on impermanence in infinite ways. You may find that one of the following meditations appeals to you more than the others. To strengthen gratitude and awareness of impermanence outside of meditation, use a journal to record your moments of awe, and note each thing in your life that’s changed for the better.
Begin each of the following meditations in a comfortable, quiet and safe place where you can be free from distractions. Sit with an upright, yet relaxed posture. Spend 1-3 minutes with your attention on the body, the breath or both. Begin the following contemplations with a settled and stable mind.
1. Mindfulness of the Breath
Related Meditation: Noticing Movement through Breath
2. Mindfulness of the Body
Related Meditation: Mindfulness Body Scan for Wisdom
3. Mindfulness of Things
Related Audio: Seeing Things As They Are
4. Mindfulness of People
Related Audio: Mindfulness in Close Relationships
5. Mindfulness of Emotions
Related Meditation and Worksheet: A New Perspective on Emotions
6. Mindfulness of Suffering
Related Meditation: Making Room for Pain or Discomfort
7. Mindfulness of Death
Related Meditation: Impermanence Meditation
Related eBook: Deathless: The Path Through Mindfulness
“That which is impermanent attracts compassion. That which is not provides wisdom.”
- Stephen Levine -