TLC: Embracing Impermanence
In the past month, my life has shifted away from a calculated schedule in a well manicured life to a series of serendipitous moments I would be incapable of proactively architecting, even if I tried. This is what the next year will be for me - a conscious cruise fueled by unexpected encounters, fleeting friendships, unlikely places, and snap shot moments. With a goal of living this way for a year, we have started this trip already acknowledging that life will change again. Impermanence is built into the trips DNA, but how often do we actively acknowledge or accept life will be different a year from now? And how much does that drive our day to day happiness?
We recently listened to a Tim Ferris podcast where Esther Peral challenged the listeners to acknowledge the impermanence in all of our lives to actively enjoy the present more fully. Her theory is based on years of counseling couples and seeing how unhappiness inside a long term relationship often stems from a false belief that your partner and the relationship you have created together can somehow forever stay the same at the point of commitment. How can we think this way when we do not own our partners? Instead, she counsels people to acknowledge the fact that their non-romantic and romantic relationships will inevitably change over time, but instead of fearing those moments of change, use that lens to actively enjoy the present time with them more fully and help us manage expectations when the season changes, instead of leaving us yearning for a time gone by.
Initially, impermanence as natural law didn’t sit well with me, especially when I am so thoroughly enjoying the present. When something is good, I generally want more of it -or a better version of it, but I don’t want to actively accept it will inevitably all change. That feels like I am dooming it, maybe even jinxing it.
As I reflected on different periods of my own happiness and unhappiness, I started seeing the connection. In 2013, my friend group in Austin, TX started to change. People took new jobs in different cities, some got married and had children, and others just simply grew apart. The previous two years had been lightening in a bottle and we all loved living life together. As I started to see and feel it all changing, my anxiety and unhappiness grew, but did I really think it was going to stay like that forever? We inherently know people change, cities change, and experiences evolve - that’s life. And yet, when we are in the middle of something amazing, the natural tendency is to try and clutch on to it, tightly, as if we can somehow prevent the inevitable. Could I have enjoyed those two years more fully if I actively embraced the fact it was only going to be for a period of time? Take a good bottle of wine. When I open it, I know it only contains four glasses. Am I able to enjoy them more because I am actively aware there is only a finite amount? Maybe.
The inherent fluidity and defined timeframe of this trip means I can’t deny or avoid the impermanence of this experience- it’s sitting right there, staring at me. The only permanent thing about any of this is the impermanence in all of it and even our perceived constants have varying degrees of elasticity. We might sleep in the same bed every night, but we park in different locations. We might surf everyday, but the swell conditions change daily. Our family and friends still love us, but we can’t talk or connect as often as we used to.
A year from now, I might not be able to decide where I am sleeping at night based on the swell forecast, we might not be able to have meaningful conversations together every night as we watch the sunset go down, and we might not be living like a nomad across the PanAm Highway. I can only actively embrace the fact that my life will look very different tomorrow, next week, and next year so I need to relax and enjoy today.
Find out more about the Tim Ferris and Esther Perel podcast here: http://tim.blog/2017/05/21/esther-perel/