Impermanence

I share with you these pears dancing in the light of the sun coming through the window. But they are no longer there. We ate them. They were delicious. The photograph is history like all photographs has captured history.

(image may be viewed and purchased here)

Impermanence is difficult concept to viscerally accept. My limited understanding comes from Buddhist practices but it is an idea that has fascinated me since I was a small child and realized that turning of the earth gave me a glimpse of visually watching the passage of time. In fact, it is fair to say that expression of impermanence is a strong underpinning in most of my paintings and much of my reflective writing.  The Buddhist notion of impermanence is that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. Here a section on the subject from wikipedia:

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. This is applicable to all beings and their environs including devas (mortal gods). The Buddha taught that because conditioned phenomena are impermanent, attachment to them becomes the cause for future suffering (dukkha).

Conditioned phenomena can also be referred to as compounded, constructed, or fabricated. This is in contrast to the unconditioned, uncompounded and unfabricated nirvana, the reality that knows no change, decay or death.

Impermanence is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta, according to which things have no fixed nature, essence, or self.

Though I do meditate and go to the odd meditation retreat, I am not a practicing Buddhist. But there are times when I find that the Buddhist doctrine resonates and helps me to live a better life – with less suffering. Such a time is when the hard drive of my computer crashes beyond recovery. Some things were lost. Some things have been found in other places. I wasn’t and I am not particularly worried or grieving about any of these things.

What did strike me in a new way was the concept of impermanence. It was like I had been accumulating this understanding for years and all of a sudden I had a glimpse of it – just for a few days and even then only for a few hours at a time. I was able to experience impermanence beyond what my brain had constructed … it was tangible in the cells of my body, the earthquakes in Japan, David’s stroke, the birth of my grandchildren, the lines on the backs of my hand, and the daffodils in the woods.

(image may be viewed and purchased here)


This wasn’t a sense of peace and ease I was experiencing – I was terrified. My experience of the world, through my five senses, was no more permanent than the passing light between the trees. I was borrowing these experiences and stretching their presence through memory, writing, painting and collecting data on my hard drive. My thoughts go to Atlantis, the Egyptian pyramids, the ancient Greek poet Sappho – all passing moments in time with just a few fragments left visible through story, crumbling earth and fragments of poetry.  I grasp that my existence, my being, and my experiences are all expressions of impermanence. For a few moments, okay hours, it was hard not to hyperventilate and go screaming naked through the woods.

But after awhile I concluded, nothing had changed. These things were the same before I looked them squarely in the eye. My knowing did not chance impermanence – only my experience of impermanence.

(image may be viewed and purchased here)

This week I shall work on another painting. I shall do it with conscious awareness of my impermanence and its impermanence.

Sprout question: How does impermanence express itself in your creativity?

© 2011 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

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Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

Terrill Welch online Gallery at http://terrillwelchartist.com

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22 thoughts on “Impermanence

  1. I think life is just like you’ve described, Terrill …
    “It was like I had been accumulating this understanding for years and all of a sudden I had a glimpse of it – just for a few days and even then only for a few hours at a time.”
    Insights are profound and memorable when they go beyond the intellectual level of “understanding.” I cherish those fleeting moments. Like the pears and spring blossoms. Here one day, gone the next. We are all but shadows of time.
    SQ: Impermanence helps me to keep in mind that creativity is also fleeting and though important, not lasting. I’ve probably written several poems on this subject, as our minds (with thick mortal bindings) are forever curious about why things don’t last.
    Have a lovely day. Or moment.

    • I like what you say Daisy ” our minds (with thick mortal bindings) are forever curious about why things don’t last.” And also “We are all but shadows of time.” So glad you dropped by to add to our conversation today.

  2. Terrill – Today’s post struck a special chord of resonance with me today.

    Sprout question: How does impermanence express itself in your creativity?

    Your sentence, “I grasp that my existence, my being, and my experiences are all expressions of impermanence” is like a nod of reassurance for a single incident that took place at the Writers’ Institute this past weekend. It serves to reconfirm that EVERYthing that takes place (positive, negative, or indifferent) is seived through the same filter–ALL are expressions of impermanence.

    By the way, I think the daffodils are giving you a standing ovation!

    • I think those daffodils are giving the world a standing ovation. They were just so pleased with themselves and everything around them 🙂 – good reminder “ALL are expressions of impermanence.” I am guessing Laurie that you may be one of the people I have had this conversation with the longest. Jeff and Kathy too along with a few other Gaia friends. I am always surprised when the penny of understanding drops a little further into my well of knowing. I want to say something like – there is knowing and then there is KNOWING. The first knowing sometimes leaves me with the feeling of being wise but the second usually leaves me exclaiming “Holy Sh*t!!!” or something equally as profound 🙂

      • Terrill – Your last sentence provided me with a great big belly laugh! Almost as loud as the time you posted a photo of you sticking out your tongue–I laughed until I cried. You really need to post that again!

  3. Think for a minute what it would be like if things were always the same – impossible, but if the light never changed, the sound or lack of it was always the same, the taste, the smell, the touch, the feeling, the thought, always the same? What would that be like? Boring even if all those sensations were our favorites.

    To answer your wonderful question; many times I strive to take an instant, capture it in hopes of sharing it and also making it last longer.

    • Janine welcome to Creative Potager and your answer to today’s sprout question says something about the creative drive for many of us – nice and succinct. Your remind me of the other part of impermanence – it applies equally to pain, hurt, anger, a bitter taste and anything else we don’t like. These too won’t last unless we work at making them last longer … . and sometimes we do for fear of letting go. I so appreciate your words and glad you dropped by.

  4. Wonderful post, Terrill…

    As for your question, my work is all about the ephemeral nature of what we build and its connection to that cycle of birth and death. I am always thinking about those things, perhaps to address that terror you mention.

  5. I see my painting as the attempt to capture impermanence for just an instance. But am I really? What I am painting no longer exists; the light has changed, the subject has moved, the wind blew through. If it is an old photo I am using for a reference, that time has long passed. Perhaps it is a feeling, an emotion, that lingers within the creative process that gives a sense of permanence. Hmmm… you always give me something to ponder.

    Love the daffodils as I am waiting in anticipation of mine opening!

    • Sue, you said this well about how “light has changed, the subject has moved, the wind blew through.” Even in how our eye constructs an image makes it already history… of course all other creative acts are then history as well. You may be on to something with: “Perhaps it is a feeling, an emotion, that lingers within the creative process that gives a sense of permanence.” I am going to think about this aspect some more.

      Daffodils early or late are always a winner. I am sure you will enjoy yours when they arrive.

  6. I enjoyed reading your exploration of this complex topic.
    I recall my own first encounter with this concept. Learning that those I love and, in fact, my own existence was not perment freaked me out. Among many other attempts to ease my worry, my mom said, “Each day is a treasure–live it.”
    How is this concept reflected in my writing?
    Each day I write and pour something of myself into each word. Occassionally, I stop to ponder–will these words out live me?
    Days, weeks, months, years later I reread these words and recall how I felt at the time and realize how my skills have developed since.
    Embracing the now,
    Leanne

  7. Looking at clouds, and their constantly changing forms, always is a reminder to me that nothing lasts. It makes each moment more precious; when I can pause and really see what is in front of me. I’ve found that when Life’s lessons come, they sneak in and suddenly explode – nothing is ever the same afterwards.
    Your love and feel for Nature is obvious in the beautiful photos, I’m thrilled to have found your blog.

  8. Pingback: Impermanence « Eremophila’s Musings

  9. I just wanted you to know that I have read your great post 3 times and now 4, but I just did not have anything to say …but “no comment” did not seem like the right thing either!

    It is causing me to think I need to get back to job hunting and stop hiding in my books and writing.

    • Patricia I am so glad that you decided to comment. Reading a blog four times and still feeling like you do not have anything to say is truly an honour. Wow! To have provoked enough interest to bring anyone back to anything more than once in our information abundant society is quite something. Just so you know, I think I can see you there hiding in your books and writing. You will come out when it is time. I just know you will. Good luck with our search Patricia! May you find something that is just perfect for you!

  10. The photos are spectacular Terrill. So very, very crisp and rich, teaming with the vibration of life.

    I loved what you had to say about gleening impermenance for a moment here and there, it not being an intellectual concept but rather a visceral experience. I see impermanence more clearly the older I get. It’s wonderful watching it move thru nature season to season.

    Impermanence expresses most clearly when I paint, and then paint over or let the paint find it’s way to where it wants to be. Building sand castles on the beach too, or drawing labyrinths when the tide is out is another way I enjoy watching how the energy of impermanence works.

    • Alison I like all your ideas for experiencing impermanence. I seem to need these kinds of reminders. Otherwise, I just get stuck believing everything is as it was. Also, I want to draw our attention to the series of guest posts you are doing because there is a good fit with today’s topic and “When the Ground Tremors” that you posted for me this week.

  11. Everything flows and nothing abides,
    everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”

    ~Heraclitus~

    So basically everything is in flux Terrill, in a perpetual state of movement. Impermenance is part of the life cycle, providing for enhancement, enrichment, revelation and creative inspiration.

    Those daffadils are truly magnificent, and again remind us that spring has finally arrived, and Old Man Winter has been finally served with his walking papers.

    • Sam, old man winter may be walking but he hasn’t got very far up the mountain here on the coast. There was fresh snow half way down to sea level yesterday and it is raw and cold unless you are facing the sun. But I guess we will just have to give him time. Always a pleasure to have your additions here Sam.

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