The fact that all things are impermanent is an essential concept in Buddhist psychology and in Buddhism in general. As we will see through examples given in this article, realizing impermanence can be a very interesting antidote to depression and many disturbing emotions.
Many of us, and this is a very natural behavior, have the habit of protecting ourselves, others and loved objects from all kinds of threats that life entails. For example, we take care of our bodies to maintain their health or sometimes even their young appearance. Or we take care of our house so that it does not become worn and collapse. We strive to maintain our jobs and protect our social position. We take special care of our wealth, and we do not want to disperse it…
Buddhist psychology reminds us of impermanence
But once something does not happen like we were expecting it to happen, once something turns wrong, we are suddenly submerged with feelings of sadness, anger, hatred, or depression… Sometimes, the mere fact that we are afraid of losing what we have can transform into a continuous feeling of fear, stress and anxiety.
In Buddhist Psychology, those negative feelings are partially explained by the fact that we did not really realize the impermanence of things. Indeed, even if we all know that everything is changing and that nothing lasts forever, we still somehow think and behave as if everything is permanent. So if we go on vacation somewhere, even if we know very well that this vacation has an end, we could still feel sad when it ends!
In the case of the end of a vacation, it usually does not bring a severe depression. But the same psychological pattern can cause severe suffering when something much more important happens. At every moment, we can face a severe accident and lose our health. At every moment we can also lose our job, a member of our family, or experience the betrayal of a friend. There are many things that we enjoy in our daily life, but we forgot that they are changing.
Meditation on impermanence: an exercise of Buddhist psychology
The antidote to those negative feelings is the awareness about impermanence. This awareness has to be practiced on a daily basis in order to lead to a real realization. We have to practice mindfulness to see that at every present moment, everything is changing. As we breathe in and breathe out, we are already different. As we understand this, and we bring it to a daily practice, we get less attached to things as we think they are. We develop a much higher acceptance of the events of life, and we live with much more contentment.
Some people think that the internalization of transience leads to even more depression, fear and anger: “How awful that things will not last forever. Life is so hard. I might as well give up.” When we internalize change, it is also about drawing a positive conclusion afterwards so that we do not end up in the vortex of resignation. So the idea should be rather: “Since I know that everything changes and nothing is gonna last, what would I like to do with my time? How do I want to spend time with the people / objects / opportunities that are important to me?”