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The Beauty of Nothing: Reflections on Impermanence

“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” ~Heraclitus 

I’m reclining on a pebble beach, my bag tucked under my head, a can of Fanta to the right of me, above me, the sky and before me, the sea. It’s a few miles out.

I came here alone. Friends had no time for me today. I’ve been reading instead, the cast of Anna Karenina filling the places where friends should be, and eating rich Italian ice cream, fudge flavored, even though it’ll give me an upset stomach later.

The sun is scorching everything today, partner-in-crime with the wind. I arch back to look at a heap of discarded oyster shells. A sign reads: DO NOT REMOVE. The shells are recycled back into the oyster beds, keeping the nursery alive and sustainable.

I roll my spine into the pebbles and wonder what oysters taste like; I don’t eat animals, fish, crustaceans, or insects.

A couple strolls down the concrete slipway on my left, stopping before the slippery green of the sea’s memory becomes a hazard. The guy is distracted; the woman looks bored and isolated.

You see, her partner has a video camera, one of those expensive HD ones. He’s looking at the world through it—the waning of the afternoon and the hot sun coming to settle atop the horizon.

The people, the beaches, the bustle, the oyster shells; all are turned into a copy and later that copy will become a copy too. In the meantime, this moment will, and already has, passed.

I look at the woman through the secrecy of my sunglasses. Her hands open and close around a bottle of water, and he lets her shoulders roll forward, creating cupped shelves from her collar bones. The sun sits in them. She’s very beautiful, very bored. She’s in the moment, but so alone.

Her partner continues to look at the world on the screen until her hints of moving on filter through the peripherals of the camera. They leave as they came.

I feel amused, perplexed, and sad for a moment, but then that leaves too, and I settle back into the beach. I watch the sun go into the sea as the sea itself leaves one place and returns to this moment.

What you’ve just read is a memory, a moment. It happened a year ago. A lot has passed since.

Last week, I understood the nature of impermanence. It’s not a terrible hole in our lives; it’s a wide open space ready to be lived. It is life.

I realized this in my futile efforts to record and collect my favorite radio show, unable to cope with never hearing that particular session again, as if I were losing some essential part of me as soon as the show finished.

As each of my attempts to trap the moment failed, my eyes opened a little more.

Wide awake, I gave up and just listened. I let each brilliant song come and go, fill me and then leave me. I let the show pass and fade. I even let the way it made me feel slip from me.

I couldn’t recall for you now what last Sunday’s show did for me. I can’t conjure up those emotions and give them to you, to be relived. What I do understand is that the show will be on again this Sunday. If it’s ever cancelled, that’ll be a shame, but it’ll also be special because nothing is meant to last forever.

I’ve not become a Buddhist master overnight but I have become freer than before; my attachment has faded.

How wonderful would it be if you could let go and live now? What would it feel like to fade with it?

I love how ice in a bottle melts, retaining the shape of its plastic vessel until the form can no longer be held and the ice collapses on itself; its moment has passed into another, as has my observation. And two weeks later, I’m editing this at my desk instead of writing it raw in the sun, getting burnt.

I could have lost my focus. Actually I did, but that also passed. Knowing this, seeing it every day makes me understand that impermanence is always happening. That great nothingness I’ve always feared is forever in my presence and I am in its.

Given the choice between the illusion of permanence—a camcorder, a first draft, and the inevitable third draft of this—I think I’ll live my life for impermanence.

Nothing has ever looked so beautiful.

Photo by jiuliano

Avatar of Sam Russell

About Sam Russell

Sam Russell is a young writer from the southeastern corner of the UK. He’s a cynic by nature trying to prove that cynics can be happy and positive, too. Visit his blog at http://cackhanded.wordpress.com/.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Galina Portnoy

    …..

  • Elmo621

    Beautifully written. You carried me away. Thank you.

  • http://www.radicalreminders.blogspot.com/ Radical Reminders

    In my work as a therapist the single topic that has resonated most with my clients lately is impermanence.  Understanding that “this too shall pass,” because all things do, immensely helps people live meaningful lives.  It helps to remain present-focused, connect with emotions (via mindfulness and awareness), and put space between us and our feelings.  In turn, this allows us to live lives consistently with our goals and values rather than as reactions to intense emotions.  Internalizing the notion of impermanence is a powerful powerful tool.  Thank you for this reflection on impermanence.   

  • barb94044

    Beautiful writing! Thank you for sharing it!

  • joychristin

    What a beautiful gift of your essence through these words…thank you for the wonderful reflection :)

  • http://www.unnormallife.com/ Michael Michalowski

    wonderful, so honest and real.

    I love the thought that nothing lasts forever. It gives me freedom. Freedom of attachment, of fear and of negative thinking. It reminds me of the fragility of the present moment.

    Nothing has ever looked so beautiful and nothing will ever look like this again.
    The same with a great song. I can listen it today and feel great. But when listening to it with a worried mind, the music won’t give me the same experience as today.

    But in the state that you’ve described, I just can enjoy and let it flow while I perceive, experience and be.

    You’re reminding us, thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24400886 Kendra Fee

    I love this so much I am beyond words. Thank you so much for the beauty of your words.  I have Impermanence in Tibetan tattooed on my left forearm.  These words touched the very root of my affinity towards the word and how I, too, live my life for impermanence. 

  • inkpenthinker

    You’re welcome. Thanks so much for reading and connecting with the experience of really living.

    Kudos.

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Thanks, Sam. So very well described.

    I have felt that way many times as I sat on the beach and watched as everything changed, remaining the same. It is an additional pleasure to watch others as they,too, indulge in the shifting times of sand. It is as though we are passing through one another’s dream.

    ~ Mark

  • inkpenthinker

    Thanks for taking the time to read Mark.

    I love the idea of passing through one another’s dreams, always connected by something unseen.

    Kudos

  • inkpenthinker

    You’re welcome Kendra.

    I think the tattoo you have is a beautiful way to acknowledge impermanence. I also have several significant inky masterpieces that remind me of where I’ve come from and what has gone by.

    Each time I have one done, I’m aware that it will fade and in the end, wrinkle. I guess that’s why I like them so much. They’re a visible reminder of having lived.

    Thanks for reading.

    Kudos

  • inkpenthinker

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m pleased to have resonated with so many people.

    Kudos

  • inkpenthinker

    It was a pleasure to write and an even greater pleasure to share. Thank you for reading and enjoying.

    Kudos

  • inkpenthinker

    You’re welcome! I think I need to work on my internalisation a bit more but having become aware of it, for now, is enough.

    Kudos

  • inkpenthinker

    It’s like a gift when someone says that to me. I so often forget my own abilities, so I thank you for reminding me that I can do these things. Beats positive affirmations hands down!

    Kudos

  • akk720

    Beautiful. Thank you for the reminder to stay alive in each moment and accept that its all you get with it. It’s funny how when we choose to just BE in those moments it brings freedom, joy and peace, yet for some reason, we sometimes choose to stay in a place of fear, worry and attachment – things that aren’t real and don’t serve us.

  • Soniyasa

    Thank you for this “impermanence” piece:) reading it gave me so many reflects of what is now, what all my sense let me experience around. This also related not only to good moments but using this to get through challenging times.

    I am very blessed to be able to Live and experience the NOW, which I could not have 2 months ago. It takes a little adjustment within ourselves and you have clarified the point in this piece. Thank you.

    I will share this with people i know that have been able to experience beautiful moments ;)

    Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ipimen Melisa Pimentel

    A couple of months ago I lived through what I consider really sad and difficult moments. During one of my restless nights a phrase came to mind: “You only lose what you cling to”. 
    The understanding and acceptance of impermanence is what helped me regain peace and see that no matter how much you cling to something, that too shall pass, no matter if it’s good or bad. 

    Impermanence has given me the desire of levity, physically and emotionally. I quit my demanding job, I see the cause of those difficult moments with a different light. I feel free and can breath with less effort. 

    Your post was beautiful. Thank you.

  • Rstern2

    You only lose what you cling to.  Love that!

  • Layla

    What a great story!  Thanks for the reminder.  I didn’t expect anything from reading this (except the nagging feeling that I’m falling back into my old packrat-y habits) but instead it inspired me to go into my “downloads” folder, pick out the important files, and delete the rest (pictures I’ve saved from tumblrs and pinterest and so on.)

    Woohoo so freeing.

  • Layla

    I really like the tattoo idea… partly because it’s a good idea and is good to be reminded, and partly because it’s just awesome that a tattoo (pretty much “permanent” for your entire life) says “impermanence.”  I think if I had a tattoo like that it would make me smile every time I thought about that :)

  • Annette

    This was quite lovely. Something I’ll be more aware of now. Thank you!

  • Tejbharat

    Truly inspiring .. nice work thnx a lot :)

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    I always enjoy your writing so much, and this was another beautifully written piece.  Thank you for sharing it here!  Best to you.

  • Adriana

    I loved Pimentel’s post

  • Zrefunjol

    Beautiful.

  • Saucyapples

    I agree.

  • Kamharw

    Truly beautiful & I feel very connected with this topic since the passing of my mum & my elder sister.My looking up into passing led me to quite a few Buddhism books & one of the research led me to accept death as everything in this world is not permanent.
    Every now & then I love reading up on topic as inspirational like this,thank you.

  • friend forever

    Melisa,

    Your story was beautiful too! Thank you so much for sharing. It inspired me even more. Thank u thank u thank u soooooo much!

  • shameda

    Thank you, for these soft, inspiring thoughts…