The Transience of our Permanence


They say when you get a lover
You begin to lose a friend.
That the end of the beginning is the beginning of the end.
They say the moment that you’re born is when you start to die.
And the first time that we said hello began our last goodbye.

                                            Roger Whittaker in The First Hello The Last Goodbye, 1976.

Have you wondered why most fairy tales end with the lines, “…..and then they lived happily ever after.”

Somewhere these words leave a warm feeling inside of permanence and stability. As we go through life, we like to moor ourselves to our family, our home and our possessions. We see permanence and derive comfort from the known just as we feel discomfort in transience and avoid the unknown.

But we are born and live through a world always in transience. And buffeted by the changes, we also keep changing. I remember the lines made famous by Bob Dylan in the sixties.

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Yes, we better start swimming and we do swim. But we do this because we are somehow conditioned to maintain the permanence of our situation and not because we are conscious of   “times they are a – changin’.” So while our rational mind does notice the kaleidoscopy of transience happening all round us including our own self, our emotional core tries to hold onto the solidity of our perceived permanence.

I wonder about this as I ask myself, “Why do we long for this permanence when we know we are in transience?” Does the answer lie in religion? For religion does seem to offer sedateness amidst the noise and striving surrounding us. Religion tells us that permanence lies in loving God and loving one another. But love is a feeling. So does religion signify permanence of our feelings as it speaks of the transience of our physical selves?

                     “That nothing walks with aimless feet;

                      That not one life shall be destroy’d,

                      Or cast as rubbish to the void

                     When God hath made the pile complete”

                                           Lord Alfred Tennyson in “In Memoriam A.H.H.

Throughout history, our quest for a stable mooring has created philosophies which have debated about human consciousness and its permanence. At the individual level, this has been termed as our “soul” and that oft asked question, “Does our soul persist when our bodies fall?” has remained unanswered. I believe the reason we hold onto this philosophy is because it helps us reconcile the dread of the ‘physical death’ transience of our bodies by hooking onto this faith in the permanence of our conscious ‘souls’.

Was it this obsession with permanence which made the Egyptian pharaohs build pyramids five millennia back? Is it the same mindset that makes us store photos, videos and momentoes even today? Almost as if we need to keep our memories hostage in the inanimate world to reassure us of our permanence. This attitude of permanence has led us to develop a ‘content storage’ mindset. When asked, we quip back, “I am in a hurry…… things are moving fast….. I would always come back to savour these memories later.”

So how do we reframe our perspective from this mere ‘content storage’ to a higher ‘content experience’ mindset? I believe we can do this as we focus on pure experiencing with less and less obsession with storing. We then move into a state of heightened mindfulness. Where we let go of permanence and immerse in the flows of transience.

I think again of this transience- permanence polarity and I start noticing symmetry.

As I get up in the morning and look out, I derive this intense comfort from the permanence of the palm trees surrounding the pool and the curved pathway moving away on both sides. This has remained changeless since many years. But looking out of the window, I also see a pair of pigeons nesting and laying eggs and delight at the transience of this.

A memory I have held dear and which offers a soothing balm during stressful times, is of me sitting on the banks of a clear running stream, my legs resting on an immersed stone. While the running water may be seen in transience around the permanence of the stone, for me it is the timeless rushing (permanence?) of the stream as it erodes the stone (transience?) into smoothness, that leads to a deep inner peace.

As I reflect, I realise that these symmetries of transience and permanence are the moments when I gain the expanded consciousness of my here and now.