Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Myth of Permanence

"Fleeting Beauty"
- in my meditation garden -

Southern California has been on quite a “rollercoaster ride” recently.  Over a period of the past few days a violent wildfire has spread across a major highway causing people to abandon cars as their vehicles were set on fire by the intense heat. The very next day a bridge over another major highway was swept away by the raging waters of an unexpected flash-flood that hit the dry desert region, virtually cutting off California from Arizona on that well-traveled route. Beside all this, on that same day, the city of Los Angles was deluged by torrential rain, flooding homes and closing streets – it never rains in July, in fact it hasn’t rained like this in 200 years. And yet, in spite of the rain, the entire state of California continues to suffer from a severe drought.

An article in the paper today raised a question about what is going on here—expressing a fear that “everything seems like it’s becoming unraveled” - droughts along with floods and fires all happening at the same time? What’s next a major devastating earthquake?

Today’s article made me realize that this fear that everything is unraveling is essentially based on an erroneous assumption - on a myth that everything is permanent and tightly knit together, that’s so we get scared when it seems to be coming apart. A July torrential rainfall in L.A. and floods in a desert aren’t “supposed to happen;” and when it does happen, it challenges all our myths that the world is unchanging, that we own it all and can control it all - all of which, of course, is untrue.

The Buddha taught:

Everything is impermanent.
When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.

Our delusional egos fool us unto thinking that everything is permanent and controllable, and yet today’s scientists tell us that from the tiniest little quarks to the massive array of multiple universes, the entire cosmos “is” a swirling mass of dynamic change, a process of always becoming something different. As the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said;

Nothing endures but change.

We human beings are of course, all part of that swirling mass of dynamic change, everything about our lives, our physical bodies, our minds, even our relationships – all a process of constant “becoming,” - new every moment.

For me, there is perhaps no place better in the world to discern something of the impermanence of life than by living out here in the desert. I have learned, for example, that if I want to get a picture of one of the many desert flowers that bloom in our garden,  I pretty much have to take the picture within a day or two of when they blossom because many flowers lasts about a day,  and then the hot baking summer sun quickly dries them up and before you know it they are gone. 

The desert is a place of excruciating beauty, but it is an impermanent and fleeting beauty, ever-changing and uncontrollable - such is the nature of life.

The ancient 4th century Christian desert monks really got it right in the way they understood the impermanence of life. The wilderness where they made their home could never be pinned down, it was massive, wild, and was always new every day.  So the desert taught them to live a life that was “free from anxiety.” The Greek world for this principle of “anxiety-free living was amerimina.  The monks were guided by amerimina:  you can't control a wild world of constant change, so don’t cling to it, just enjoy it, and in it all know that “God” abides.

I am trying to be like those desert monks out here in my own wilderness home.

Floods and fires, droughts and storms – it’s not that the world is becoming unraveled, it’s just that it was never all that tightly wound to begin with.

A beautiful flower bloomed in our garden yesterday and I took a picture of it - good thing, it has already faded away.


  1. Embracing impermanence is to have ceased to struggle.
    Having ceased to struggle is to have found peace.
    As a Christian this is only possible if one is able to say "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." That familiar phrase from the Lord's Prayer is a recognition of impermanence as the ultimate feature of existence when coupled with faith.

    I think it may also be the lesson of the book of Job.

  2. And I find that having really looked and loved something deeply whether it be the poppies in my garden, or the blossom on a tree, there is a sadness when it fades. And the more I love, the more I see, the deeper I feel the loss. The tragedy of life, the reality of life. This moment is it. It truly is. Yet despite it wrenching my heart, despite the echo of sadness within everything that I truly touch, I wouldn't swap that for not noticing. Just as I feel the joy of something, so I can also feel the pain of it passing. They go together, hand in hand. Sheridan xx