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 she 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

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/.

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