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Impermanence and Our Lives

May 16th, 2020


“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” - Nhat Hanh

a dandelion going to seed and blowing away

Impermanence for All

There is one topic that I can guarantee impacts you (because it impacts everyone) although you may not realize it or are actively aware of it. This subject permeates into every area of our lives and has held as a definite truth throughout time. The matter I am referring to is that of impermanence. You may be thinking, “What is impermanence and what does it have to do with me?” Or, you may be thinking, “I don’t see the big deal, why does impermanence matter?” If you are thinking either of these things and want to know more about impermanence, you have come to the right place!

What is Impermanence?

A great place to start with impermanence is by defining it as this is not a term that we often use. The Oxford Dictionary defines impermanence as “the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time” and Merriam-Webster defines it as “the quality or state of being impermanent”. It may be helpful to provide some synonyms of impermanence:

  • Temporariness
  • Fleetingness
  • Transiency
  • Evanescence
  • Fugitiveness
  • Transience

Basically, impermanence is the phenomenon in life that everything comes to an end, and that nothing lasts forever. Impermanence is infinite, meaning that it is constant and continues on throughout the course of time and that from the beginning of time and into the ever-distant future, nothing will last forever. Now that we have provided a impermanence definition, we will next discuss how this idea of infinite impermanence impacts different areas of our lives.


One area that impermanence impacts our lives is with relationships. But, how so?

  • People come in and out of our lives throughout the duration of our life
    • The following is an example of a common life path:
      • You grow up and go to one school (elementary) then you may change and go to another school (junior high), then perhaps to another school (high school). From there, you may go into the workforce, the military, or to college for more school
      • In any of those scenarios you may be in those places for 4-8 years (sometimes with movement and changes during those years as well) before switching to another job or career
      • All these changes and movement in life lead to different people coming in and out of our lives and impermanence in these relationships
    • Other people will have an even more complex life path with more movement
      • Moving multiple times to different areas
      • Life changes
        • Switching schools frequently
        • Having a multitude of jobs and job hopping
      • In these cases, they will have even more impermanence in their lives
  • Break-ups, Separation, and Divorce
    • When we think impermanence in relationships we often think of break-ups
    • Dating reminds us that relationships are impermanent, and some will last longer than others
    • Even in relationships that we think will last forever (such as marriage) sometimes end in separation and divorce
  • Death
    • Ultimately, all relationships come to an end as we are all guaranteed to one day die
    • Most all of us have experienced this idea of impermanence through death as we have had to say good-bye and bury individuals in our lives

Capital and Goods

All of the things we work for and own are bound by impermanence as well. The capital we work to earn could include:

  • Money
  • Shares and Stocks
  • Assets
  • Credit
A man looking stressed at a downward trending graph on the computer

All of the above are temporary and will not last forever. Money is easily spent and often leaves us as soon as we get it, as many people say, “money come and money go”. Shares and stocks may be promising at one moment, and then be worth little to nothing the next.

The goods we buy can bring us much joy, but the joy is usually short and fleeting. The following goods that we purchase are impacted by the phenomenon of impermanence:

  • Electronics
    • Electronics are constantly being reworked and upgraded
    • The advancements in technology make even some of the more recent technology obsolete and useless
      • Some examples include:
        • Cell phone
          • Every 6 months they come out with a new cell phone that makes your current cell phone outdated
        • Television
          • Your new TV may be great until the next model or bigger size comes out
  • Furniture
    • New trends and styles are always being updated
  • Toys
    • Children are entertained by the same toy for a little bit, but then quickly want something new to play with
  • Appliances
    • Household appliances do not last forever and need to be replaced when they are either outdated or break

Emotional Impermanence

Even our feelings are influenced by the idea of impermanence. Although when we are mad or sad and these feelings feel as though they will last forever, they will not. Even during the times when we are at the height of our emotional experience, the emotions will subside, reduce in intensity and will end up ceasing to exist.

A woman sitting on the couch, deep in thought

This can be extremely beneficial to know for those who deal with intense emotions such as depression, anxiety, and rage. Emotions as strong as these will even come to stop and change overtime.

Time and Our Own Lives

One thing we cannot get back is our time. Time is a prime example of impermanence as it is constantly fleeting and with each moment that passes, we encounter a brand-new moment and a brand-new experience. No moment is truly like the one before.

Therefore, we must live our lives as exactly that, an impermanent life and by cherishing each passing moment. When our lives are not going as we well as we would like we can remember that it will pass overtime, as everything does.

Regardless, it may be beneficial to seek help and find a counselor near you to help you get over the trials and tribulations you may be facing, as each moment is precious and should not be wasted. After all, we live bound by impermanence and should respect this phenomenon.

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