As I’m writing this, my former home and community (in the States) is burning to ashes. This is not a metaphor. It took roughly 8 hours for a raging fire to spread 18,000 acres (73 km2) and engulf this small, quiet, rural town. Watching my former home, friends’ homes, workplace, hangouts, and public spaces crackle and collapse just reminds me of the impermanence of it all.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve lived through some major disasters — two magnitude 7 earthquakes, and a terrible race riot that left thousands dead/injured. At age 13, my home was shot at. The shooter shot two rounds, one at each back-facing window. Thankfully, no one was injured.
In my 20s, when I moved to the aforementioned rural town, my husband and I had to evacuate twice. Both times were due to fire. Our home was fine, but a few of our friends’ houses burned down to the ground. They lost everything.
Impermanence in Everything
It’s during times like these that we are reminded how impermanent stuff is. All our tangible things and prized possessions could be destroyed in an instant.
While the intangible things — our (digital) money, health, relationships, power, fame, education, and influence — aren’t generally destroyed by physical calamities, they too can be lost or disrupted to the point of irrelevance. What good is money when you can’t withdraw it because there is no electricity to power the ATM.
All these things, the tangible and intangible, are ephemeral. As is our very existences on this planet.
It’s easy to forget just how impermanent our lives are. We live our lives, going through the motions from day to day, and it seems that very little changes.
But these days, things are changing faster than ever before. So much so, that it’s becoming more important now than ever to accept this notion of impermanence.
- Do you think you will live in the same home, like your parents did? Probably not.
- Will you stay in the same job or career throughout your working years? Unlikely.
- Will your job even be around when automation replaces 70% to 90% of jobs?
- If your job does manage to survive, will your pay still remain the same?
- Will your/your family’s health be maintained indefinitely as you age? Absolutely not. Our health will eventually deteriorate.
Everything comes and goes — friendships, relationships, people, gadgets, trends, and health. Times are changing and they are changing fast. This makes it so that systems cannot keep up. Systems like the educational system, legal system, healthcare system, and banking system. Our minds and bodies also are having a hard time keeping up with the changes to our environment, climate, air, food, and water supply.
In short, it will become harder and harder to maintain things well. Systems are becoming more volatile. There will also be more tragedies, more disasters, more extreme climate events, and more inequality.
Unfortunately, this is the world today. But if we recognise this impermanence and our impermanence, we might be more prepared for tragedies and disasters. We might also learn not to be so fixated on our possessions, wealth, or power. And hopefully, we might learn to be more appreciative of each other and of our time here. As the Dalai Lama said,
Awareness of impermanence and appreciation of our human potential will give us a sense of urgency that we must use every precious moment.”