The Impermanence of Life

“Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux.”  ― Source: Wikipedia

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”  ―  Alan Wilson Watts

Though the weather is summer-like with hot, humid days and buggy nights, autumn awaits around the corner as the sun rises later and sets sooner each day. Children return to school, and families reset their routines. It is a wistful, introspective time of year for me, a time to reflect on my life, to look back at where I’ve been and to what’s ahead.  I often make new commitments and sometimes let go of others. Fall is always a time of change, both externally and internally. 

Lately I’ve been reminded about the impermanence of life. The past month has been filled with tragedy and unexpected and inexplicable death and loss, both public and personal. Wars rage in the Middle East and Ukraine, in homes and in our streets. Children, spouses, hostages and young black men are killed.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the body of an unarmed young black man killed by a police officer is left in the street, soon filled by protesters. A reporter’s throat is slit by a terrorist and the video posted online. A celebrity who we loved and admired took his own life, while others closer to home and heart, slip away unexpectedly. A coworker, on the eve of his daughter’s wedding and just months away from retirement, dies from a heart attack, instantly.  A retired deputy sheriff, recently diagnosed with ALS, allegedly murders his wife and her sister, and then attempts suicide.

Closer to home, I spend precious time with my aging parents, aware that what once seemed like a lifetime ahead of us, is now behind us and how much time we have left and what lies ahead is uncertain.

Earlier in the month I celebrated my parent’s 65th wedding anniversary and attended my ex-husband’s family reunion, where I met new generations of a family and saw others who I’ve known and loved for the first time in over thirty years. Our bodies mirrored our journeys and years. Some things change, while others, like love and affection, gratefully remain the same and seem timeless.


Since I keep journals, I often reread entries from the year before, and the year before that, and on and on. It helps me see the cycles of my life, interpret the patterns and rituals that ebb and flow and transform like the changing seasons.

My heart is saddened by estrangement and warmed by reconciliation. Much of life is learning to say hello and good-bye and if lucky and diligent, hello again.

Thai Pavilion, Olbrich Gardens. Photo credit: Bitteroot

Thai Pavilion, Olbrich Gardens. Photo credit: Bitteroot

For myself, I’m at the threshold of the third act of my life. I may have thirty more years ahead or just today. This awareness makes each day more precious. It also requires me to live more consciously and with intention. Like a young child, I’m relearning the lessons of what to hold onto and what to let go. Material things begin to have less importance, while living an authentic and spiritual life becomes a mandate. I feel compelled to reach out and make amends to people in my life that I’ve hurt, to address unfinished business when and where I can, to let go of resentments and learn to practice forgiveness, to not be afraid to be vulnerable and love, and finally live each day as if it were my last.

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

Modern Mandala

Thank you to a fellow writer for reminding me of this wonderful Phil Ochs song, Changes

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3 thoughts on “The Impermanence of Life

  1. Irene Hansen says:

    Thank you for such a meaningful post Linda! Having been raised by parents and a large extended family old enough to be my grandparents, I’ve watched every single one of them grow old and die, the entire generation. I miss them terribly and agree with everything you say about the impermanence of life. All we have is right now.

  2. Tamara Seeker says:

    Love your blog, Linda. As we empty our basement I have been perusing boxes of pictures and mementos. Can it be 40 years since my children were babies? Pix of my own babyhood and childhood. Seeing my mom in pix where she was vibrant, articulate and feisty and at the same time keenly aware that she now is frail, grasping for words she cant retrieve and so confused about where she is or where she thinks she should be.
    Your sentiments resonate perfectly & capture my feelings as well.

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