Have you ever noticed yourself getting spun up over something that isn’t going according to your planned idea of how things should go? Or do you find yourself trying to micromanage something or someone to fit into your idea of how it should look or play out? I have been there, and it caused me to ask the question: Can peace and suffering coexist?
Have you experienced times of deep angst longing for someone you care about to reach out to you or in deep grief over the loss of a loved one?
All of these scenarios are human of course. We all go through times of longing, times when we want something to unfold in a certain way, wishing for an outcome we envision in our head. Of course we are going to grieve the loss of a loved one, a job or a pet. But how can peace and suffering coexist in these very difficult scenarios?
In the ancient teachings of Buddhism, the concept of impermanence, called anicca (Pāli) or anitya (Sanskrit), is one of the most essential teachings. This teaching asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is "transient, evanescent, and inconstant". Essentially, everything temporal, whether material or mental, is simply an object in continuous change and subject to decline and destruction.
NOTHING is constant or permanent; everything that comes into being dissolves.Maggie Kelly
Anicca, or impermanence, is understood in Buddhism as the first of the three marks of existence, the other two being dukka (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-self, non-soul, no essence).
Are you still with me?
So why am I writing about this? Buddha taught that because no physical or mental object is permanent, it is our own desires for or attachments of people, places, things, events that cause our suffering or dukkha.
In other words, our suffering is only caused when we hold on to our ideas of how things should be or try to make things happen in the way we want them to happen instead of allowing them to unfold however they are meant to unfold.
When we grasp or cling to something we want or think we need, we create our own suffering.
So on the flip side, it makes perfect sense that it’s impossible to find peace when we are clinging or grasping; when our desires take us over.
Buddha further taught that fundamentally, the core of our suffering lies in our inability to accept old age, sickness and death.
This may sound simplistic but think about that.
Look around you.
How many of us work hard to stay healthy, look younger, and steer clear of death sometimes at all costs?
It is this clinging, attachment and grasping that causes our own suffering. So, can peace and suffering coexist?
Practice What I Preach
Today I am being tested to truly put the teachings of impermanence into practice as I watch my mother die. Yes, I am deeply saddened by her imminent death but it is the natural course of life. As tears roll down my cheeks at the thought of not being able to pick up the phone and talk to her for hours about all that is going on in my life, I understand that her death, as was her life, is the natural order of things; it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
If I instead were holding on to her, wishing that she wouldn’t die, it would be me who suffered much more than if I were able to widen the lens of her life and fully appreciate who she has been in my life and how beautiful and full of a life she has lived.
Being able to fully grasp this teaching of impermanence allows us to accept things that come to us more easily. It keeps us in a constant state of gratitude and peace for what is in this moment without worrying about how tomorrow will play out.
As you walk through your days this week, see if you can begin to notice the times when you might be grasping, clinging or holding on to something, someone or some notion of how, in your mind, things should be or turn out. Instead of acting on your attachment, clinging or grasping, see if you can practice impermanence in the moment. It will not be easy as the habit we have as human beings to hold on is ingrained. But keep practicing noticing, just that.
Once you practice noticing, you will then begin to develop the muscle to reframe your attachment into non-grasping. Keep at it. It is a new muscle.