The Permanence of Impermanence

When I was a kid and a friend said something hurtful or I felt bad because I’d struck out during a softball game or even when I had cramps,  my mother would always say, “This, too, shall pass.”

Mom understands impermanence. The weather, the price of gas, the baseball season, our joys, our sorrows and especially our bodies – nothing stays the same. Everything is in a constant state of change.

Since being introduced to the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and subsequently discovering Pema Chodron and other Buddhist teachers, I’m learning to observe and live within the present moment. Meditation and other mind practices cultivate change in how I adopt and express compassion and loving kindness toward myself and other sentient beings, even (and perhaps especially) the person I used to be.

I’m working on a project that has me poring over my journals from the early 1980s to now. I’ve spent hours reading about feelings I had in response to specific incidents and feelings in general about my life in that moment. One day I’d be on top of the world and the next day not. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m reading about my life as a 20-something- or 30-something-year-old woman from the perspective of a nearly 45-year-old woman, and to cut my younger self some slack.

Those times passed. They were impermanent. And I built, year after year, upon those experiences, those working out of problems and feelings – perhaps not always in the healthiest of ways, but the only ways I knew how at the time – to become the woman I am today, who, I’m sure will frustrate the 65-year-old me when I read today’s journals in 20 years.

The lighter side of my journals are the entries about my kids, particularly the things I’d forgotten – small things like I couldn’t remember how old they were when they got their ears pierced and poignant things like the at the hospital a few days after I had Cassie. She’d developed jaundice and was being  treated under bright lights for several hours a day. I couldn’t have her in my room as much as I wanted, but one night, after the nurse brought her to me for a short visit, the fire alarm went off and all the doors to the ward were shut. For 90 minutes I got to hold Cassie all alone in my room before the hubbub ended and they came to retrieve her and put her back under the lights.

There are entries about spelling tests and arguments, boyfriends and birthday parties, how unfair I was to not let Cassie shave her legs until she was in sixth grade, how awesome I was because I let Carlene go to homecoming in 10th grade…this, that and everything in between 

One of the funniest entries I’ve read to date was written November 23, 1990, when Carlene was 7 and Cassie was almost 6.

“Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Carly was going to take a picture of me across the table from her. There was a candle between us and, very seriously, she looked at me and asked if the camera would blow the candle out!

“Cassie said that the turkey was talking to her inside her tummy. She said he said he didn’t like to get eaten.”

I called Carlene last night and read this to her. I was laughing so hard I was crying. She laughed, too, and couldn’t believe she was such an air-head. I reminded her she was 7.

Laughter shall pass just as sorrow shall pass, but some things from the past are worth bringing into the present moment, whether it is for a good laugh or a chance to learn from our mistakes. Without my journals, these experiences would be permanently erased from memory, and I doubt I’d have this chance to learn to accept with loving kindness the person I was 5, 10, 25 years ago. It’s probably the nicest gift I’ve ever given myself.

7 thoughts on “The Permanence of Impermanence

  1. My Mom says that, too. …And you know what? ….It always does. Funny you mentioned journaling. I’ve never really done it. I just bought a journal last week and I’m going to start. I’m kind of nervous and excited. I’m going to seriously try and lose weight. The weight that is holding me back from nearly Everything. You’ve inspired me to journal while doing so. I want to see just what triggers me to do the things I do. 🙂 The good, the bad and the ugly. You’re quite an inspiration to me and I really enjoy your writing. Thanks!!!

  2. My dad was the one who said that (and “the hurrier I go the behinder I get” which is, I believe, of Amish origin). I often find myself saying the same thing. When things are bad, or really really irritating it’s my mantra. I am an off again, on again journal-er, sometimes I enjoy sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee and writing my thoughts. Other times I’d rather sit through an audit. But it’s always interesting to go back and take a look at the younger me.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog since I read the article on CNN. I love your writing, and I can’t tell you how much I feel like I know you. When I pull up your blog and see your picture, you are so familiar. Your “old self” picture seems familiar, too. I don’t know why.
    I was prompted to come out of “lurking” to comment because I really can relate to the journaling. I’m fifty, and I have every day of my life for the last twenty-eight years detailed in approximately fifty blank book journals. I’m frequently amazed by how reading a small mention of something I wrote about will bring back a flood of memories and details that I would have thought were gone forever. My journal “discipline” is one of the things I am proudest about myself. So much of what I write is exceedingly mundane (including what the weather is!) but it does chronicle most of my son’s and daughter’s lives, and that record is irreplaceable. I’ve often joked that they will probably just throw all of these books away after I’m gone but, if they did, it wouldn’t matter, of course. Even though I rarely look back through the pages of the past, I know it’s all there, and I did it for me.

  4. I remember sitting on a front porch about 10 years ago, pouring my heart out about the loss of love. Nope, I thought, life will never be the same, it will never be fun again. And again just a couple of months ago, that old feeling was back. But it shall and does pass. And so shall this big summer project I’ve grown to hate. It will pass, but the day it’s all over I begin a two-week stand-by for federal jury duty. This too shall pass, but the more things change, the more they remain the same, too.

  5. Hello,
    Thank you for this post. I have kept a journal since I was 12 years old (I’m 31 years old now) and I know exactly how you feel re: this being the best gift you’ve ever given yourself.
    Thanks for reminding us to reflect on who we are and how much we’ve changed, how different we’d react to circumstances from the past if we were dealing with them now.
    Nancy in CA

  6. I heard a great interview with architect David Rockwell the other day–he designs swanky restaurants, but he also designs for the theater–“Hairspray” and “Legally Blonde” are two of the latest. He said that architects are obsessed with permanence, and one of the reasons he designs theatrical sets is they are NEVER permanent, and it’s important to be reminded of that.

  7. I keep meaning to do things like that- to write down all of the funny things they say. They’re at an age where everything is strange and new to them and their interpretations of things can be so strange and funny. I’m glad that you did better than I’m doing and took the time to write some of them down.
    I remember child #2 as a 3-year-old. During a family meeting about the importance of table manners, child #2 was asked what should be done after dinner. The reply was, “My dog is poodle.” I just hope I can remember that by the time they’re grown.

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