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Saturday, 2 February 2013

This, Too, Shall Pass

Today, a friend noted that “you don’t develop thicker skin” when attacked, “it’s scar tissue."

I half-joked that in the loss of feeling, there’s comfort to be found in the numbness. For me, that numbness has been quite soothing, as it sure as hell beats the relentless pain that preceded it. It’s safe to say I spent most of the last 5 years or so in deep and profound mental anguish. The ‘numbness’ that currently prevails stems from the notion of impermanence.

I told a different friend recently that my mantra is now that of a John Cougar record title:

Nothing Matters And What If It Did

She asked no questions, perhaps assuming it was some depressing “oh, woe is me” type of shit. But that’s not it at all. It’s simply that, in the big picture, nothing – at all – matters, and that understanding brings with it a tremendous freedom from burdens of all kinds.

I don’t think that it’s defeatist (though there’s certainly an argument to made that it is), or nihilistic, or anything but comforting - a wonderful alleviation of self-imposed pain. Punch yourself in the face repeatedly. Now stop. Doesn’t that feel awesome?

Life: Don’t get your knickers in a twist about it.

Or, more aptly explained by James Shelley in one of his thoughtful Caesura Letters...


If you go a funeral in the Buddhist Theravada tradition, you will likely hear these words:

Transient are all compounded things,
Subject to arise and vanish;
Having come into existence they pass away;
Good is the peace when they forever cease.
(Mahaa-Parinibbaana Sutta 6.14)

Accepting the impermanence of the world is a cornerstone in Buddhist teaching. It means acknowledging that everything about you and the world around you is simply an “arising and passing away” (Kalupahana, 1976, p. 37).

However, impermanence is not only a philosophical idea; it is also an empirical reality. 

“Impermanence rules the world, and that is something permanent,” writes Ajahn Chah (Chah, 2005, p. 10). 

Everything we create is temporary, as is everything we accomplish and acquire. The empires we build for ourselves are nothing but anthills of busyness, which will eventually be washed away or moved by another generation. Nothing that we own truly belongs to us—at best we are renting our possessions for only as long as we are alive to enjoy them—and yet even then they crumble between our fingers. 

Moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). The molecules of the tallest, strongest skyscraper will eventually succumb to gravity. Even our greatest feats and edifices are makeshift and momentary.

The ideas in our minds and our mansions of bricks and mortar—all is impermanence; perishable creations; little blips in this great cycle of arising and passing away.

Could anything be more liberating?

The greatest sources of stress, angst, and pain—what are they? They are but particles of impermanence, echoes fading into the distance. Why do we cling to them? Why do we throw a childish tantrum when our feeble, ephemeral desires fail to curtail the unstoppable march of change around us? Why do we foolishly assume that we will build something that will eternally mirror our own vanishing images?

Today: let go.


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