I think life is too weird if we don’t accept momentary impermanence and go day by day with the flow. We keep getting surprised, shocked: “I can’t believe that happened; it is so weird!” And life feels full of losses.
(Carrying straight on from this article on subtle impermanence.)
Why do we have midlife crises? Why not an early or late life crisis? Why at 42?! Perhaps because it begins to finally sink in that we are not the same person we were 20 years ago, we can’t do the same things, we are running out of years, we have a paunch, our dating pool has shrunk. This can induce panic, discontentment, obsession with youth (our own or others), driving a motorbike, and eventually acceptance – but why did it take us so long for the penny to drop? We are confused trying to reconcile an old self-image with what we see now, having been ignoring that we have been changing not only week by week but moment to moment, and changing completely at that.
Midlife crises seem to occur when all the changes we’ve been through suddenly seem to hit us all at once and we can no longer hold so easily to our image of ourselves as youthful, virile, cool, etc.! So we go a bit crazy. But studies also show that if we find purpose in life, meaning, wisdom, apparently we are far less affected by mid-life crises.
Reducing the sufferings of ageing
We look in the mirror and we feel disappointed, “Oh no, the bags under my eyes are growing!” But if we weren’t holding onto what we looked like before, who cares?! If we were able to accept our momentary change, and let go of grasping at our previous body, it will be a lot quicker to accept and adapt to our body’s changes. And it’s the same for others, eg, ageing parents and partners, we can just let them be who they are now as opposed to freaking out at all the changes from what they were. As a hairdresser once told me, “We are all going in the same direction at the same speed.” And it’s ok! I had 2 good role models in my grandfather and Eileen, who never gave a monkeys about getting older (to the ages of 100 and 92 respectively) because they just loved every day as it arose.
We need to drive home to ourselves that not even an atom remains of us, others, or the world from one moment to the next. As long as we feel there is some trace of yesterday’s person, for example, we are still grasping at permanence — holding onto the idea that the same basic substance has just changed or been modified a little bit. Grasping at that same basic substance is called “permanent grasping”.
Healing the past
That painful relationship we had in the past — the person we had it with doesn’t exist anymore. The person we were doesn’t exist anymore, not even an atom, not even a trace. The issues don’t exist anymore — they existed in the past, not now. So why are we recreating it all?
Heraclitus famously said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” Apparently he also said, “You can’t step in the same river once.” He’s right! Think about it!
When we start to think deeply about subtle impermanence we experience a sense of liberation, freedom, being able to put down all of that emotional baggage and just experience deep peace and happiness. What a relief!
I don’t have to go back in time to try and heal the past. How can we heal something that doesn’t exist? What happened in the past doesn’t exist.
We don’t need to heal the past, we just need to realize that it’s gone.
And through understanding subtle impermanence deeply, if we had a conflict with someone yesterday we can look at them today with new eyes, knowing the person we had the conflict with doesn’t exist. When we begin to understand subtle impermanence we can put down the grudges and move into an area of forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about letting go of the past and moving on. We can ask ourselves how many people there are in our life that we’d like to do this with — let go of the past and just move on. Subtle impermanence gives us the freedom to do this.
Dealing with regrets
This wisdom also helps us let go of regrets and nostalgia. For example, maybe we think I’ve wasted so much time on this good for nothing relationship, project, etc., and we hold onto it, thinking, “I have to salvage something!” So we can’t let go. I have a good friend who put a lot of money into a business that just didn’t work out; people weren’t ready for it or something. But it was hard to walk away from it because of all the investment of time, hope, and money, so there was the temptation there to throw good money after bad, as they say.
Yet the best way to let go of the past without regrets is to embrace the present. Since beginningless time we have done lots of things with everyone, and these are all like dreams now passed. Let it all go — distant dreams are already forgotten, and the latest dreams are no more substantial, we just haven’t forgotten them yet. We don’t need to wait to forget them before we let them go; we can simply realize that there is nothing there to hold onto, that it’s like trying to hold onto last night’s dream. We don’t have to wait for time to heal, ie, until enough things happen that our memories are crowded out so we can forget and move on, however many long agonizing months or years that may take. We can heal a lot faster if we use our wisdom and determination.
If the past was good, we want it to come back, or to continue. But it is still past, ie, over, so we need to enjoy today too, not be nostalgic or melancholic.
In this next article, how to back up our wisdom with determination so that Buddha’s advice has a stronger impact on our mind.