By: Ken Austin
It was the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.” By this, Heraclitus meant that permanence is an illusion—nothing is, ultimately, permanent and the entire universe is in a constant state of flux or motion rolling ceaselessly into eternity.
The Buddha also taught a doctrine of impermanence (annica) which is a central tenet of Buddhism to this day. This flux, as elaborated on by the Buddha, however, had a moral component. On the Buddhist view, as with Heraclitus, all is in a state of flux, ever changing, ever moving, permanence being naught more than a mere illusion. This illusion, according the Buddha, causes all sorts of problems for us humans.
Particularly, problems arise when we cling to something as if it were in fact permanent. By embracing the illusion of permanence, we set ourselves up for suffering when, in fact, that which we once viewed as permanent changes. For example, relationships…Not all relationships last a lifetime. People marry and people divorce, a sad but true reality. And when such relationships do dissolve, there is pain and suffering. According to the wise and venerable Buddha, this pain and suffering is not caused by the actual separation itself per se but rather by the attachment to permanence—attachment, ultimately, to that which is illusory and in fact impermanent.
This is not to say that to feel pain and to suffer is wrong and that one can do away with it entirely. What the Buddha meant was this (and granted I am oversimplifying a bit): by recognizing the reality that all is ultimately impermanent (that life is dynamic and a process of ceaseless change) one can mitigate the pain and suffering caused by the adherence to such false notions and live a life more rooted in reality as it truly is, i.e., a life more in tune with and accepting of change.
Such a realization sets the stage for one to become more adaptable and pliable in the face of life’s many challenges and adversities. Instead of trying to stand steadfast and hold steady all around you fighting the current of time and change, you let go and change with the changes. Go with the proverbial flow one might say. One should never be surprised by change nor taken off guard by it as it is the one fact of life that is inescapable.
One who recognizes and comes to terms with the fact of change is, in a certain sense, free from it because now he or she is part of it. Don’t fight change, change is inevitable.
Everything, at one time or another changes, well, except for one thing…The only thing that never changes is that all changes!
One comfort of change is that one can come to almost an epiphany when one recognizes that change is Nature’s way—the inescapable universal constant. People are often afraid of making changes in their own personal lives because change is often so very difficult, at least initially, and places one in a new set of circumstances which is often very uncomfortable. We prefer stasis to change thus change is often very stressful. By realizing that change is in fact a law of nature and embracing it as such, it makes it easier for one to make changes in their own lives. Whether it be moving, transitioning into a new job, picking up some new good habits, e.g., exercising, eating well, etc. (or doing away with bad habit), change is not impossible, on the contrary, it is very possible and a law of nature at work constantly in our midst. Use the power of change to your advantage. Make a change today!