Free Will: Accepting Impermanence

This week, Will ponders how to live with impermanence.


An average human lifespan is 80 years, but that number is dependent on the myriad of forces both in and out of our control. If you are female, averages indicate a few more years added onto your life. Whether or not you live a healthy lifestyle — one rich in exercise and disciplined dietary control — can afford you with either a longer life or one shortened by sickness and strife. Your mental hygiene contributes greatly to the number of years one will live, and if you are lucky enough to avoid the galaxies of adverse events capable of such terrible destruction, then perhaps life won’t get the best of you.

But, as the averages would say, we have about 80 years.

In this time, it is the dead-set convictions of most to find meaning and value out of a world that has much to offer. This value is predicated much on material goods, the finite objects and pleasantries that increase the neural activity of our brains, delivering it signals of happiness, comfort and satisfaction.

The best way to make the most of this time is to climb up these imaginary ladders of success. Social, occupational, monetary and many more abstract systems of modern day life use an archetypal model of human success. If you work hard, smile, shake hands firmly and make enough money to thrive, those 80-some-odd years will be worth it.

You will have exploited all there is to life. Yet, I find it hard to follow this standard of living when life oscillates and fluctuates moment by moment, and our existence is but a small blip.

If I am told to make the most of what my life has to offer, can I also make room to accept the reality that life itself isn’t permanent? And that what I do will, in time, recede into the background, making way for new generations of transient beings?

To me, it doesn’t feel morally incongruent to both strive for the fruits of my labor and understand that the tree of life will come to a halt. In Buddhism, this idea is called “Anicca,” and it is one of the three marks of existence taught in Buddhist practices. It is the idea that all of human existence is subject to decline and eventual destruction. Impermanence controls.

Upon first glance, the idea of Anicca is unsettling because of constructs we use to ease away our uncertainties. Today, I will worry about my future, the prospects of the job market, whether or not I’m sociable or able to contribute to even the most menial of conversations.

I’m made to believe that I have to leave an indelible mark, and indeed I believe that to be true.

In return, I choose to relinquish as much of the control I currently bear, no longer assuming the promise of my reputation holding longevity. I try, simply, to just do. I am one with everything and everyone, because we all live collectively, and all of us see the end of our domain. Life will continue on as it always has and always will. And in this impermanence, there is a great deal of comfort.

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