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.

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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