Attributed to Crowfoot (ca 1830-1890), chief of the Canadian Blackfoot tribe.
My plan for Monday morning's class was to talk about impermanence. Sitting down at the computer to compose my thoughts before class, I had just finished typing the last sentence and was preparing to copy and paste one last thing when suddenly everything disappeared from the screen. After several vain attempts to retrieve the lost paragraphs, it became painfully obvious that they were gone forever.
I smiled at the irony.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is quoted as saying: "Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.
If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. 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. Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation."
Everything changes, of this we can be certain. Everything in life and on this earth is impermanent. Having a deep understanding of this, in what ways can we make the most of the preciousness of our time? First, we can start by asking ourselves over and over: "Am I awake? Am I fully present and making the most of this fleeting moment? Am I fully aware of what I am doing?" Recognizing impermanence helps us identify the ineffective patterns and activities that we are being distracted by. Then, we can begin to see more clearly the things that exhaust us and distract us from experiencing the blessing and opportunity of each unique moment.
In Zen practice it is often said that the span of our lives is like a dew drop on a leaf — beautiful, precious, and extremely short-lived. Life is remarkably unpredictable. One of my favorite Zen parables is about a meditation master named Achaan Chaa. When his students came to him and asked him how he could be so happy in a world of such impermanence, the master held up a glass and said, "For me, this glass is already broken. I love this glass; I drink out of it. It beautifully reflects the light coming through the window, But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it down or my elbow brushes it and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, 'Of course.' When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious."
Whatever it is that you want to accomplish - whatever is important to you - do it, and do it now with as much grace, passion, and sense of ease as you can muster. None of us can know what life will bring. In any moment everything we take for granted can change. We must be careful not to be preoccupied by impermanence to the point that we become afraid of loss, but rather to use the awareness of change to shift our focus and heighten our appreciation of the sheer beauty of being alive.