impermanence

LIVING WITH A BUSY FAMILY, I often feel just like one of the Tibetan monks I once saw making an intricately designed sand mandala. For months, they bent over the ground, arranging the sand grain by grain, and once their beautiful creation was complete, they cheerfully destroyed it in the ultimate celebration of impermanence.

While I don’t create mandalas, I do wash the dishes. And when I come back to the sink later, dirty dishes have appeared again. I fold and put away a basketful of laundry, and in no time, the basket is full again. Even my yoga mat is a reminder of impermanence. Just this morning, it was stretched out on the floor, filled up with my movements,
and now it leans against the wall, empty and forlorn.

As the Buddha said, impermanence is the nature of the human condition. When we accept this fact as truth, we suffer so much less. Without having an awareness of impermanence, we typically fall into one of two patterns: denial or depression. Although we cannot escape the impermanence of life and the fact that we are going to die, we may cling to our youth. Or, we may unconsciously turn away from the truth by withdrawing from life.

Yoga philosophy offers an alternative to these tendencies. The first verse of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra states, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” which roughly translates as, “Now the teachings of yoga begin.” The power of this verse is often lost on readers who interpret the words as an introduction of little value. But in my view, that first word is the key. The verse encourages us to focus on what is happening to the body, mind, breath, and emotions in this moment.

Yoga philosophy as a whole is predicated on the notion that identification with the temporary, changing aspect of reality leads to suffering, while recognition of the eternal, changeless Self leads to peace. Remembering the eternal in daily conversations, tasks, and actions is really the key to transforming our lives. Unless we are able to return to the “big picture” of our lives, we will be caught up in the minutiae of being late for an appointment or losing a favourite earring. What gives life its juice is the ability to mourn the lost earring fully and simultaneously know it doesn’t ultimately matter. In other words, we can live to the fullest when we recognise that our suffering is based not on the fact of impermanence but rather on our reaction to that impermanence. When we forget the truth of impermanence, we forget the truth of life.

Spiritual practice is about remembering that truth and then embracing it. In the past, I kept doing the laundry so it would nally be “done”. Of course, it never gets done. Now when I look into the laundry basket, whether it is full or empty, I try to see it as an expression of what life is all about: embracing each moment as it unfolds.

About the author:

Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD has been a yoga teacher since 1971. Her website is judithhansonlasater.com