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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Leonard N.
Leonard N.5 years ago

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

Inez Deborah Altar

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

Inez Deborah Altar

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,".....................................................

Inez Deborah Altar

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",

Claire C.
Claire Chambers5 years ago

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

Ambrose Merly
Past Member 5 years ago

beautiful article, thank you.

Mervi R.
Mervi R.5 years ago

Lovely article, thanks!

Nellie K A.
Nellie K. Adaba5 years ago

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).

John Van Hise
John Van Hise5 years ago


charmaine c.
Charmaine C.5 years ago

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.