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Living with Change: Every Moment is Impermanent

Living with Change: Every Moment is Impermanent

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about change and uncertainty.  As I look forward to the next steps I hope to take with my career, and the decision my fiancé and I will soon make about where we want to live, I find myself longing for stability.  I want to know what my career will look like, what city we will settle in.  But of course, life is ever changing and fighting uncertainty only causes anxiety.

I recently read this article by Norman Fischer in the Shambhala Sun about Buddhist conceptions of impermanence.  Many Buddhists and meditation practitioners view impermanence as, “a problem to be overcome with diligent effort on the path,” Fischer says.  By contrast, he explains that the twelfth-century Japanese Zen master Dogen views the path – or practice – not as a way to cope with impermanence, but as a way of living that allows us to fully appreciate the constant change inherent in existence.

Similarly, Fischer points out that, for most of us, impermanence is not something we deal with in the present moment.  The painful parts of impermanence – the passing of loved ones, the loss of one’s health, and ultimately our own deaths – are all things that (we imagine) will happen in the future.  So we tend to see impermanence as something that will cause us pain down the road.   Of course, the “future” will come, and in that moment, we will experience the pain of impermanence.  But for the majority of the time we spend on Earth, we are not experiencing those moments.  So for the most part, we imagine the pain caused by impermanence as something that will happen later.

On the other hand, Dogen views impermanence not just as loss, but as change.  We are always changing.  We are not static, whether we are presently experiencing pain and loss or not.  Impermanence is not just the future loss of something we want to hold onto – it is the condition of our being.  Therefore, practitioners should seek not to transcend the pain of change and loss but to appreciate impermanence – both its agonizing and its joyful elements – as the nature of existence.

This idea is fascinating to me.  When I think about impermanence – or my fear of uncertainty – I tend to think about all of the things that could go wrong in the future.  All of the things I could lose.  But approaching impermanence as more of a neutral force, as the condition of our being, somehow seems to make the uncertainty of it seem less daunting.  Realizing that every moment is characterized by impermanence and that, consequently, the future will be no more impermanent than the present, is surprisingly reassuring.


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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


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9:22AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012


6:34AM PDT on Apr 25, 2012

Thinking along these lines has helped me to cope with change, both positive and the not so positive, throughout the last few years. It's a great way at looking at life. Thank you for sharing.

5:13AM PDT on Apr 25, 2012

Goodness knows I try to focus on the present; there are times, however, like now when the level of uncertainty seems too much to bear. I'm all for change--just let it happen already and I'll appreciate the hell out of it! lol

6:52PM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

Change is good! No reason to worry or fear tomorrow, it hasn't happened yet. Live each day to the fullest with a positive attitude and tomorrow will take care of itself! Works for me....

6:43PM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

My life has been agonizingly chaotic over the past 10 years. It has forced me to frequently change and reevaluate my existence, so I'm trying to accept impermanence. It's hard. In fact, I don't know what to do with myself when there's a lull and things appear stable for a while... that is, except to become a little self-destructive. It's very easy to slip into the mentality that since there will constantly be dramatic upheavals in my life no matter what I do, I might as well initiate them. I think I'm addicted to change. It's something I've come to realize recently, and I'm working to fix it.

8:22AM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

Something to think about...thanks!

6:55AM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

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