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The Trail of Impermanence


The Noble Path

Trees lose their leaves, sunshine turns to rain, trails break down and your favourite features shift from one to another as your riding ability improves—impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence.

Buddha stated that in this world nothing is fixed or permanent. Nothing remains the same—human life, trees, mountains, streams, thoughts, feelings, perceptions and emotions. And part of the suffering we experience in life is because of our attachment to impermanent things. We mistakenly believe these impermanent things like people, relationships, careers and circumstances are what make us suffer. It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer, it’s wanting things to be permanent when they are not.

Impermanence in Relationships

Have you ever had a euphoric moment with someone, engulfed in bliss and thought: I never want this moment to end? Well, too bad. It will. Why? Impermanence.

In saying that, you may now feel that, because of impermanence, there’s risk and so you should avoid falling in love with someone. But love is good, attachment is not. When we see beautiful autumn leaves, we know they will soon perish, but knowing this doesn’t prevent us from loving them for that moment. If we knew that the orange leaves would last forever, they wouldn’t have the same poignant beauty and we’d likely take them for granted—the same goes for people in our life. We can still love someone profoundly while understanding that they’re impermanent.

It’s impossible to stabilize a relationship because it’s impossible to stabilize people. Expecting relationships to be permanent and comfortable is what makes them uncomfortable. At the root of discomfort is the wish for comfort. Relationships shift like weather in the backcountry; some days you can see forever and some days you have to take cover because a storm rolls in and you can’t see 2 feet in front of you. And, just like trekking through the elements, the most important thing you can do is to be absorbed in the present moment—this brings everything into brilliant, precious and accurate focus.

Loving with non-attachment

Just like good ol’ Lennie, when we hang on too tightly, we risk inadvertently crushing or suffocating things. By clinging, we initiate suffering. We must learn to do everything lightly—feel lightly, even though you’re feeling deeply. Lightly let things happen in the midst of chaos, and gently cope with them when you feel a heavy heart.

This does not mean that you cannot deeply love. It means that you appreciate something for what it really is without having your happiness and sorrow depend on it. We will eventually lose everything we cherish, but in that fragility is where you discover the  preciousness: colours become more vivid, smells become more intense, sensations become breathtaking. Once you let go and allow things to happen, each experience becomes one-of-a-kind, beautiful and rare. Like watching a sunset, you fully appreciate and bask in the beauty without desperation for it to suspend itself in space and time. We let it fade away, and we’re OK.

Letting go of cherished people and things doesn’t come without a period of sadness, but feelings of blame, anger, regret and betrayal are a choice. Instead, strive for acceptance and consider some of the beautiful moments you had, forgive others, forgive yourself, and see that by dwelling, you’re not only spoiling your current moment, but also the beautiful memories that no one could ever take away from you.

To love means giving the other person space to exist in their life, distinct from yours. It means not holding them responsible for your emotions  or happiness, and it means allowing them to make mistakes and be imperfect.

Just ride it out

The point of riding a trail is to ride. People enjoy riding for the thrill, the challenge, the surprises and the pure joy. No one is riding with a goal to see the end. If they were, then their favourite trail would be the short, safe, easy and boring one. Life is the same way. The point of life is to participate in the ride.

Every trail is destined to its outcome, no matter how many turns, twists and obstacles it takes to get there. So don’t let the fact that everything is impermanent depress you. If things are not good at the moment, don’t worry—they will change. If things are good, don’t get attached to them—simply enjoy them while they are here. This is the beauty of impermanence.

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