Embrace Change and Strengthen Gratitude: 7 Meditations on Impermanence

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. 

Embrace Change and Strengthen Gratitude with 7 Meditations on Impermanence

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.

Breath Focus B

1. Mindfulness of the Breath

  • Breathe slowly and patiently in and out through your nose
  • Observe your breath, without judgment or self-criticism
  • Notice the fluidity of breath and breath’s continual movement
  • Each breath seems to have a beginning, and and end
  • And yet we trust completely in the cycle of breath
  • We don’t mourn or attach to the in breath as the exhale begins, nor vice versa
  • It’s only by letting go of each inhale and exhale, that we allow for the continuation of life
  • Rest in awareness of the impermanence of breath for as long as you’d like to
  • Explore what else you notice

Related Meditation: Noticing Movement through Breath

2. Mindfulness of the Body

  • Once established in a calm, seated meditation, reflect upon yourself as a baby
  • Recall how tiny you were, how helpless you were, and how little you knew of the world
  • Note how quickly you seemed to grow and change, day by day
  • Recall yourself as a toddler, a child, a teenager
  • Note how much has changed in your body alone, how much has changed in your mind
  • These changes are happening moment by moment, and you’re changing even now
  • Note how you have benefited from this growth in both body and mind
  • Rest in awareness of this growth and change for as long as you’d like to
  • Explore how this makes you feel about the future

Related Meditation: Mindfulness Body Scan for Wisdom

3. Mindfulness of Things

  • Once established in a calm, seated meditation, reflect upon an object in the room
  • Note how this object was once brand new. As it has aged, it has changed
  • Perhaps you can see the change, maybe you cannot
  • Imagine you could zoom in further, to see the atoms that make up this object
  • You would see that they are changing right now, continually in motion
  • Change is not something that happened in the past
  • Change is a process that’s occurring in the present
  • Not even physical, solid objects are permanent. They too, are changing
  • Rest in awareness of the impermanence of objects for as long as you’d like to
  • Explore how might change your relationship to things

Related Audio: Seeing Things As They Are

4. Mindfulness of People

  • Once established in a calm, seated meditation, reflect upon someone close to you
  • Was this person always close to you in this way?
  • Were they once a stranger, an enemy, or simply an acquaintance?
  • Note how your relationships with others are continuously changing
  • There may be someone with whom you once were close, but aren’t any longer
  • It’s equally possible someone currently unknown to you, or unliked by you, will become close to you and beloved
  • Rest in this awareness of the impermanence of relationship for as long as you’d like to
  • Might this awareness encourage you to extend more compassion to yourself and all others?

Related Audio: Mindfulness in Close Relationships

5. Mindfulness of Emotions

  • In a calm and stable seated meditation, reflect upon a (positive or negative) emotion
  • Has this emotion always been present, and have you always felt this way?
  • Turn towards this emotion, and learn more about where and what it is right now
  • Where is it in the body, or what shape does it take in the mind?
  • Does it have a size, a color, a temperature, or contour?
  • As you sit and observe this emotion, does any of this change?
  • Rest in awareness of your changing emotion for as long as you’d like to
  • How might this awareness help you become less reactive, less anxious, or more accepting?

Related Meditation and Worksheet: A New Perspective on Emotions

6. Mindfulness of Suffering

  • In a calm and stable seated meditation, reflect upon your current (physical or emotional) pain
  • Have you always felt this pain and hurt in this same way?
  • Turn towards your pain, and learn more about where and what it is right now
  • Where is it in the body, or what shape does it take in the mind?
  • Does it have a size, a color, a temperature, or contour?
  • As you sit and observe your pain, does it change?
  • Rest in awareness of the changing nature of your pain for as long as you’d like to
  • How might this awareness help you to let go, become less reactive, or more self-compassionate?

Related Meditation: Making Room for Pain or Discomfort

7. Mindfulness of Death

  • In a calm and stable seated meditation, reflect upon the preciousness of your life
  • (1) It is certain that you will someday die
  • Every living thing that comes into this life, will someday leave
  • (2) What’s not certain, is the time of your death
  • Anything can happen at any time
  • (3) At the moment of death, the only thing that can comfort you, will be your own mind
  • Your friends, family and loved ones cannot go with you
  • Your money, possessions or title won’t be of any use to you
  • Rest in awareness of each of the three prior points for as long as you’d like to
  • How might this awareness of the impermanence of your own life change the way you live?

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 -

About the author 

Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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