I feel sometimes like, since having started studying the Buddhist teachings, and having started meditating, impermanence has become, in a weird way, both really obvious, and subtly hard to grasp.
What I mean by this is that, if you keep being reminded that things change and grow and die all the time, you’ll start to notice it. You might start noticing the way your hair grows, or the way you sweat, or the way stores open and close. This can seem unimportant, except for the fact that it’s unnoticed most of the time. There is a part of the mind, I think, that wants to ignore change. It can be scary to see change.
But back to my first idea. You can start to be more aware of impermanence. Right now, I feel like I can see examples of it in daily life, all over the place. At the same time, I do forget about it important areas. There are things that, when they shift or disappear, I’m a little shocked. Somehow I did expect for that thing to stay. Today, at a mall I go to regularly, I noticed that a clothing store I’d shopped at had switched to selling only luggage. Did they get bought out by the luggage store next door? Did they just find a good deal on wholesale suitcases and decide to try that out? I don’t know. But it was surprising. I did expect the store to stay the same.
In a sense, ignoring impermanence is a kind of laziness, or a kind of mental habit.
The question is if there is something wrong with that. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged students to be cynical, especially at the start of their studies- don’t just go along with some New Age sounding idea because you’re curious about it, or because it fits with some kind of persona. Does impermanence make sense? I think that is easy enough to prove. Is it fair to say that ignoring change is a kind of laziness, and a kind of mental habit? Maybe that’s not as obvious, and should be taken with a grain of salt.
I think the basic idea is that you can save yourself various kinds of trouble in the long run. If you don’t expect something to be around forever, you will not be heartbroken when it goes.
Maye there’s something good about heartbrokenness. Here, it seems to me that we’re dealing with a borderline between the hinayana and mahayana. Renunciation, in the sense of giving up on making it all work the normal way, thinking plans will work out in the normal way, is a part of the hinayana. But then being heartbroken, being able to open your heart, is probably good. I don’t want to suggest that the attitude of a Buddhist is cold, or uncaring- things will eventually disappear, and turn into something else, so why care?
Here, I’ve reached a sticking point. I think there’s something beautiful and valuable about both attitudes. Of course knowing that things will leave shouldn’t become too tight (not caring). Caring and having a heart shouldn’t become weepiness or insanity (too loose). I’m also not suggesting a sort of balance or combination of these two. I’m suggesting that both approaches are worth exploring- an attitude to life that incorporates knowledge of constant change, and an attitude that incorporates warmheartedness.
Okay, I am suggesting a combination. But I don’t want to pin it down too much, or formulate how that would work, mostly because I can’t say from experience how that would work.
Some other examples from recent days of impermanence:
-my glasses broke as I was arguing with my wife (no, she didn’t slap me, the pad on my nose just suddenly mysteriously fell off- got it fixed today)
-my landlady saw that a new toilet seat and flusher handle were installed last night(at same time as glasses breakage, or around same time) although the flusher doesn’t really work, and what really needs to be fixed is the whole building’s water pipes
-my bank account suddenly dropped to half what I thought it would be (I think some state taxes finally got deducted, not sure why it happened so late)
-an English class I’ve been teaching is coming to a close (this is one thing I’m happy about, not that it’s ending, but that I feel like I’ve accomplished something)– big final test next week