As I watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, I reflected on the nature of impermanence. It’s so obvious at a moment like that since that moment, the change from one year to the next, is separated out and celebrated. We all know it passes never to be experienced again. That acknowledgement is a useful tool for us. It can help us understand the transitory nature of this so-called reality in which we live. But that’s not always what we want. Like Paul Anka singing “The Times of Your Life” we cling to our Kodak moments yearning for what is no more. The question is why?
Maybe it’s because our perception of the past as “the good ‘ol days” clouds what we are experiencing in the present. But the present is always on it’s way to becoming the past. See the problem? Still, we find comfort in the past – its outcome is already known, we’ve gotten through it, it gives us pleasure, we can re-visit loved ones who are now gone etc. We can’t say that about the future. The future is unknown and the unknown is always scary for us. So, between reliving the past (whether good or bad) and worrying about the future, we lose sight of where we are – the present.
Those Kodak moments also give us a glimpse of something else at work in our lives – attachment. When we experience nostalgia, we experience attachment: a longing for something that is no more. Also, we experience attachment when we plan for our future Kodak moments because we are attached to how we think the future should turn out.
Buddhism speaks of the interrelatedness between impermanence and attachment. The fear of losing something or someone makes us hold onto it more strongly. All of our energy is channeled into protecting what we have because we feel our possessions and relationships define who we are. Just ask anyone who has been dealing with the effects of the current economic crisis. They have been given a unique opportunity (although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way right now) to see their attachments and how their identity is wrapped up in all things external. It’s only when we can detach from our attachments in any given moment do we glimpse our true identity.
To understand impermanence is to embrace the present moment. When we are truly present, we live in that space that is free from attachment. We don’t mourn the past or fear the future. In the present moment there is no past or future, only the eternal now.