The wisdom of impermanence
My son had his first day of kindergarten. It’s a cliché of emotions. Mostly overwhelming and bittersweet. Yes, it goes by fast. That is the line we are hit with daily. How fast it all goes. How quickly they get old. It’s one of the more damning phrases we use.
It is the conflict between the things that are always changing and staying the same. I never expected aging to be like that. It is because the feeling of getting older is separate from the state of being physically older.
Time gives you perspective and that changes, but what stays the same is the experience of being. My great grandfather who is turning 92 always says how he forgets how old he is until he starts to move. His mind has changed as he feels older now that he, thankfully, doesn’t drive. I am always fascinated by watching my grandfather interact with his great-grandkids. I imagine how surreal it must be to have kids, then see them have kids and then see their kid’s kids have kids!
He says the same thing, “It goes fast!.” His tone lacks the urgency that most say this with. He has accepted that as the simple nature of being. The constant state of things moving fast, except of course the undesirable moments that drag.
We resist how fast time moves. It is campy and disdain inducing to recognize the imminent death of ourselves and our loved ones? You can easily become obsessed and then depressed about this.
Sam Harris asked Jocko how he reconciles war as the most evil, awful occurrence while simultaneously claiming it to be the best time of his life?
Jocko’s response was to consider how a person who has lived through cancer says something similar. It is the worst thing that they wouldn’t wish on anyone, but at the same time, they came through the experience stronger and with a greater appreciation for life. These are lessons learned the hard way.
I’m convinced that we only lessons the hard way. I think wisdom is a matter of learning lessons the easy way. Maybe there is no easy way to learn these things.
We live in a meme culture that projects the most profound insights as bumper stickers and gifs. As my friend Dean Abbot wrote in his newsletter: (which I highly recommend you sign up for here)
It is when we reject the wisdom in things, no matter how mundane, that we miss out on the subtle reminders of what it means to have a present existence.
One habit that has made this process easier for me is writing down 5 memories every day. It is always something I am grateful for. It is small moments, like the way my daughter begged me to rock her for 5 times to avoid sleeping. The way my son tackled the kid in front of him to get the ball. The way my wife smiled at me while we watched the kids playing together. It is those small moments that make life worth living.
What confuses us most about impermanence is the things that don’t seem to change, or rather, don’t change as fast. Desirable moments are fleeting where the undesirable ones are tediously long. Perhaps this is the result of expecting things to last. We anticipate going on vacation only to have it fly by and then before we know it we are stuck on traffic on Monday morning wondering where the time went. Or we are watching our kid get on the bus for school wondering where it all went.
This causes undue suffering. It is the forefront of one of my great struggles. Imagine a life where you look back and say I was present instead of I missed it. I was tired, I was angry, I was lost. No. You were present.
You will always look back on your past. Remind yourself that you were there for it. Just like you are here right now.
That is all you need and that is all you get. You don’t need reminders about how quickly it all goes, we need to be reminded that it may seem difficult and frustrating at times, but that is all life is. Just an endless sequence of moments.