One day you will be a memory. Impermanence is a truth from which there is no escape. The essence of impermanence is aging that places each one of us on a relentless trajectory through time. Our lifespan is temporary, fleeting, and fragile. Our life expectancy is a question shrouded in mystery. We cannot know how long we will live. As we become older and journey through the second half of life, we feel our own impermanence more intimately. And it is here that we find a new urgency to live.
Impermanence is Truth
What are the elemental truths about life?
An elemental truth offers no possibility of retreat. Once we have been touched by it, we can never turn away from it. The message inside truth results in permanent change. New questions grasp us and offer no release. Our inner world shifts, and we look out into the world through a different sensibility.
One important truth about life from which there is no retreat is impermanence. Aging, or more specifically senescence, is a child of impermanence that irreversibly changes the body. We will physically deteriorate over time. We exist in the medium of impermanence. We often try to hide from the reality of our own disappearance, but impermanence is a profoundly loyal and trusted companion for life.
We do not know how long we will be here. Impermanence is uncomfortable. It requires a courageous form of responsibility to fully inhabit its message. We often focus our energy on finding excuses to rationalize our avoidance, but avoiding reality only results in weakening our mind and spirit.
Aging is most fundamental form of change we experience in our lives. The spiritual essence of aging is impermanence. Aging is our most intimate connection with time. Inside aging we find our internal clock that defines the time between our appearance and disappearance. Perhaps it is not a clock as much as it is a stopwatch. A stopclock?
Life hides more from us than it reveals. Impermanence is humbling. It is a final frontier that remains shrouded deep within an impenetrable mystery. There are many things we cannot know. We cannot know in advance precisely how long we will live. As the influence of aging intensifies inside of us, we feel the call of invisible forces that lie outside our perception.
Ideally, we would all live a long life free from pain and suffering, and hope that death approaches us as late in life as possible in an immediate, quick, and painless manner. Unfortunately, impermanence can be chaotic and unpredictable in its manifestations; it does not offer the hospitality of foresight.
Impermanence is an ancient and universal conversation. Aging means that our experience of being alive is inherently and irrevocably imbued with impermanence. As the influence of aging intensifies, we begin to feel the allurement of our own transience. A sense of spiritual urgency begins to arise, and perhaps we wake up from our somnambulism and discover ourselves in the midst of life for the first time.
Impermanence makes ghosts out of all of us.
The Spirit of Impermanence
My work as a writer lives at the intersection of the struggles we all experience in life and the unique aspirations we hold close in. This ebb and flow between what we want to create for ourselves and what the world places before us is the creative realm that animates my words. Impermanence is a core discipline within that space of thinking, imagining, wondering, feeling, and expressing.
The word spirit refers to the animating or vital principle of all life. It originates in the Latin spiritus meaning breath; spirit is the breath of life. Through overuse, the meaning spirituality has become vague. I use the word spirituality to describe the authentic and uniquely personal quest to discover our purpose, meaning, and wisdom in life.
The spirit of impermanence is the frontier on which we seek belonging and significance for our efforts in the here and now of life. It is not about our hidden origins or a secret future destination. The spirit of impermanence places us firmly in the here and now. Spirituality lures us directly into the midst of enchantment and the subtle embrace of the primal world.
If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. When a flower dies, you don’t suffer much, because you understand that flowers are impermanent. But you cannot accept the impermanence of your beloved one, and you suffer deeply when she passes away.
If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now. Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving and wise. Impermanence is good news. Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change. Instead of complaining, we should say, “Long live impermanence!” Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.
When a loved one dies, we are enveloped by the spirit of impermanence. Inside impermanence are the painful realities of loss, grief, bereavement, dying, and death. But in this very same space we also discover gratitude, belonging, humility, significance, and love.
We cannot feel fully alive unless we embrace the spirit of impermanence. It is impossible to take life for granted when we invite impermanence in. Like all spirituality, our relationship with impermanence is deeply personal, private, and often secret.
The spiritual path of impermanence leads us toward meaning, purpose, and ultimately wisdom.
Impermanence as Conversation
As we get older, the pursuit of authenticity becomes more urgent. During the second half of life the feeling of having more time behind us than what lies ahead begins to reveal itself. We also begin to experience the death of other people in our own generation more frequently. Even the death of a famous person can intensify our feelings of impermanence.
One of the most cherished intentions of impermanence is to encourage us to question and challenge our long-held assumptions and beliefs about how to live a good life. Many of our beliefs have been imposed upon us through assimilation and cultural conditioning. This does not mean that they are necessarily valid, ideal, or meaningful.
Impermanence lifts us out of the habit of unexamined belief and patterns of living.
A conversation with our own impermanence is a courageous dialogue. It is a conversation that commands our full attention and awareness. During this secret inner discussion we find ourselves moving deeper into unavoidable truths. And once we have been touched by them, there is no return to the way things used to be.
Our lives are imbued with mystery; we are always surrounded by the unknown and unexpected. Though we may secretly hold on to hopes and desires about how we would like our life to proceed, the story of our future remains unknowable.
Change is a descendant of mystery. Our life course consists of unforeseen twists, turns, and switchbacks that lead us directly into the midst of the unexpected. We yearn for consistency and congruity; we experience a confluence of uncertainty.
Nothing stays the same. Nothing is permanent in life. Grasping for permanence is a recipe for suffering. Unexpected change walks ever so slightly ahead of us. Death always remains at our side.
One day you and I will be memories.
One day you will be a memory
It is difficult to contemplate our own disappearance from the world.
We are culturally conditioned to avoid these kinds of conversations, and they are often falsely denigrated as being too morbid or sad. Our panic and anxiety in the face of unavoidable truth causes deeper levels of suffering within. To embrace impermanence is to revitalize our life. The avoidance of impermanence only invites suffering.
Our own journey through impermanence is always on public display. In the mirror, I notice subtle changes in my face that reveal the passing of time. The commercial anti-aging industry is a well-crafted form of ignorance. Of course, it is important to take care of our health and maintain a good appearance. That does not mean, however, that we undergo all kinds of contortions in an attempt to manufacture the illusion of youth.
If we are to become a memory, then what should that memory be. This is the point at which we decide on what the value and contribution of our life should be. Nelson Mandela offered the following insight during a speech:
What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
Nelson Mandela’s memory is uniquely imbued with his being, his presence, and now his legacy. It is the entire trajectory of his life, rather than specific events within it, that are the most inspiring and leave us in awe. His life danced in the joys and agonies of wisdom, and the deep meaning of impermanence.
There is a unique artistry hidden within our own disappearance. Crafting the spiritual legacy we leave behind for others is a core discipline in life. The significance of our own life is inexorably connected to the lives of everyone around us. Any sense of “I” that we are burdened with is relieved by considering the “we” in life.
Impermanence means that one day each one of us becomes a memory.
I would like to offer my gratitude to Bill Howdle who reposted this article on his site, Dying Man’s Daily Journal. He also wrote a personal perspective called, One day I will be but a memory.