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Appreciating Impermanence

Appreciating Impermanence

I saw a cartoon in a recent New Yorker magazine in which two people were finishing their dinners at a Chinese restaurant and had just opened their fortune cookies. One fortune read, “You are going to die.”

If you let this fact sink in — that life is short, and we all die — it can actually act as a powerful motivating force to help maintain focus and priorities. Everything changes and is impermanent, so are we fully present and making the most of this fleeting moment? Are we fully aware of what we are doing? Appreciating impermanence clarifies priorities, and it helps us identify any frenetic, shallow and ineffective activities we’re being distracted by. We see clearly the things that exhaust us and distract us from experiencing the blessing and opportunity of each particular day.

In Zen practice it is often said that the span of our lives is like a dew drop on a leaf — beautiful, precious, and extremely short-lived. Life is remarkably unpredictable. Whatever you want to accomplish, whatever is important to you, do it, and do it now — with as much grace, intensity, and sense of ease as you can muster. None of us knows what life will bring. In any moment everything we take for granted can change. We must be careful not to dwell on impermanence constantly, to the point that we become paralyzed with fear of loss, but we can use an awareness of change on a deep and wise level to focus our priorities and increase our appreciation of the sheer beauty of existence.

Mindfulness helps us to see that our ideas about who we think we are are limited and inaccurate. What we mean when we say “me” and “I” are often incomplete in profound ways. Mindfulness allows us to see how we weave these stories about ourselves as well as how we see others and the world. As a result of this practice, we can live with more clarity, resilience, and purpose.

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Marc Lesser

Marc Lesser is CEO of ZBA Associates LLC, a company providing executive coaching, leadership development consulting, and keynote speaking services to businesses and non-profits. He is a developer and instructor of Google’s Search Inside Yourself program. Marc is a Zen teacher with an MBA degree and a former resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years. He is the author of Less: Accomplishing More By Doing Less and Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration.


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12:38AM PDT on May 27, 2010

nice article man.....
thanks for the sharing

10:24AM PDT on May 25, 2010

I think the second version of "had a purpose" I remember more correctly

10:23AM PDT on May 25, 2010

one has to know what one lives for, but one must also know for what one is prepared to die for, as my father Herbert Otto Altar, said when awaiting execution by an Imperialist power to his friend to whom he had given that work which was to liberate billions from slavery, and starvation, "If our lives were short at least they had a purpose,".....................................................

10:20AM PDT on May 25, 2010

one should not only know what to live for but what to be prepared to die for - as my father Herbert Otto Altar said on awaiting execution at the hands of an Imperialist colonial power, to his friend whom he had given one of the greatest works of all time which saved billions from starvation and poverty for a time, "If our lives were short, at least we did something",

7:30PM PDT on May 24, 2010

Each day is a miracle and a gift. May we never take them for granted.

1:29PM PDT on May 23, 2010

beautiful article, thank you.

12:20AM PDT on May 21, 2010

Lovely article, thanks!

5:03PM PDT on May 20, 2010

My fortune cookies always things encouraging and prophetic and most of them are true, never anything negative. I love fortune cookies even if it was invented by a Chinese Californian and it does not exist in China. It's an invention as are meatballs (not Italian according to my Italian professor who happens to be Italian).

10:39AM PDT on May 20, 2010


10:25AM PDT on May 20, 2010

Nice article. Thank you. I particularly like this Zen proverb: If you understand, things are just as they are....if you do not understand, things are just as they are.

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Thanks so much for sharing with us! Sounds good.

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Thank you. I'll keep these idea's in mind.


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