Making Peace with Impermanence
How to Truly Accept Change
Throughout all of the texts of yoga, weaving back and forth, in and out, from this angle and that, sits the concept of impermanence. At the most subtle level the intricate heart of the teachings tell us of two most important components: of purusa - that which is static and unchanging, the inner dwelling seer and of prakrtti - which is everything else; all matter, all that births and dies, all that is always, forever in a constant cycle of flux.
In recent weeks, my husband and I have sat simultaneously at the extreme ends of the scale of impermanence - we’ve cried smiles of hello as we’ve sobbed streams of goodbye - no doubt, as many of you reading this have also: because that is the very nature of life. Impermanent, changing, dying and birthing.
At the heart of the yoga practice, as we age - for as many hours, days, weeks, months or years as is our own journey in this lifetime - the deep intention must be to bring us to a place where we can be at peace with impermanence. Slowly overtime ceasing the struggle of trying to anchor things that are finite and in doing so lessening our own suffering. The ultimate state of that is being at peace with death, knowing that there is no beginning or no end to purusa (that unchanging flame of source within us all) only to the ever-changing nature of matter (prakrti). This pertains powerfully to the passing of our own body. If you reflect for a moment on the question 'how do you in this moment feel about your own death?' - what rises for you? How attached are you to this body, knowing full well it is not a permanent home for you?
The Yoga Sutras are clear about the continuing nature of our experience, referencing karma in relation to 'this birth or any other', but we become so deeply attached to this body that we suffer because of the attachment. And of course between those most polarising earthly moments of birth and death, there is an immeasurable quantity of impermanent moments which we are deeply attached to - from the most trivial superficial action like a daily cup of tea or an object such as a trinket we deem precious, to those more powerful like our homes, freedom and people that we adore. The yoga goal is moving us toward a place where we can become more accomplished in our peace with impermanence as it relates to ALL things - those things that make our hearts sing as much as things that bring us great sorrow. For all beauty is the flip side to sorrow, all sorrow the duality of beauty. The more wonderful the experience we have with someone, the more we mourn their departure. The more something makes us suffer, the more our eyes open to beauty as the suffering subsides. For even with the highest celebration - like the birth of a brand new baby, comes the absolute certainty of death. This is the nature. Every parent has, in making the choice to birth a new body with the flame of purusa within, has also chosen the guarantee of that body's inevitable end. This is the nature. We cannot have one without the other. Whilst this may seem grim, it is actually where the heart of all joy can exist. Be HERE. NOW. When we have this peaceful relationship with impermanence, the knowing that everything is fleeting; be it across one minute or one lifetime, accepting each moment spent with matter is nothing but an infinitesimal spec in the scheme of the totality, then we can truly be in that moment to the full extent of it’s poetry. Whether we are standing at the most Easterly point of Australia watching the sunrise or whilst sweeping the house, for each of these infinitesimal moments are presenting for a depth of reason we often cannot quantify at the time – so look at every one of them like art.
Can you imagine? Imagine that whenever you leave anywhere, anything or anyone – be it a beautiful or painful exchange, that you take none of it with you, you mourn no loss or suffering but when you are there with something or someone, they are your whole Universe? This is just one result of a good understanding of impermanence – being wholly in each moment but being able to move effortlessly from one to the next without any residue.
When we are in suffering we often lose sight of this lifeline of impermanence and instead we create a false and often very strong belief that this pain is forever, that we will never wade our way out. If this continues for too long, we start to bond with the suffering and assimilate it as part of our identity. Then the very notion of letting the suffering go can propagate a new suffering – the suffering of losing what we have come to identify as self. We cast out this story and many other stories about self like anchors, in the hope that we will arrest the ever-changing tide of impermanence yet it is this very resistance that sinks us deeper into pain.
When I reflect on these things - as these past few weeks have compelled me to do once again - I can see there still sits within me some fear (abhinivesa) – fear for the pain that my death could cause my children, so from that reflection I am motivated to deepen my discipline toward a place where at my death, if it comes in a way where I have time to reflect, I can hold my space of peace with the impermanent nature of this particular body and in doing so perhaps create a possibility of immense peace for those around me. What a project! It is always a wonderful reminder in the texts of yoga that no living being is defined by matter; that it is our joyous work to come to see a little more each day the difference between the matter (prakrti) and the flame of purusa within us that does not flicker. With this seeing, the more at peace we become…and can there be a more magnificent thing, in this wild human experience at this time, than peace? Explore this acceptance - whilst beauty may end, so too will suffering and on again it will go.
Words by Lissie Turner