It is a profound spiritual truth that the only thing permanent in this world is impermanence. Such a simple thing to grasp intellectually, but so hard to accept emotionally. I am not the first person to feel this way. Buddha himself said that suffering arises not from the fact of impermanence, but from our attempts to cling to that which is transient. Pre-Socrates, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c.540 – c.475 BC) said, “Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”
This is on my mind today because exactly one month ago, on July 31st, we flew home from Italy. I knew, of course, that the trip to Italy would end, as all things do. I live in a beautiful place and I’m glad to be home, so it’s too strong to say that I wish I were still in Italy. However, I admit to sometimes finding myself filled with longing for the sound of the sea outside my window in Camogli, the ululation of the language, which sounds like love itself. I crave the food, the aroma, the architecture and even the chaos.
Of course, nature is the best teacher of impermanence, and this struck me many times in Italy,
steeped as it is in history. Off the island of Capri, for example, stand the Faraglioni – limestone rock formations shaped by wind and sea. Limestone being very soft, it is likely that a person steering their boat through those rocks in 100 years will not see the same rock formations I did. In 1000 years, the Faraglioni might be blown to dust. How fortunate that I could enjoy them as they are today. The Blue Grotto, formerly the private swimming pool of the Emperor Tiberius, may cave in on itself one day. But I was there, if only for a moment.
Then of course there is Vesuvius. Pompeii, an ancient time-capsule, tells a terrifying story of impermanence. Yet millions of people still live along and beneath the slopes of Vesuvius, despite the wisps of sulfur gas that rise from the crater as the volcano percolates. Change will surely
come again for that land. But as Jay said, “I’m sure glad it didn’t erupt while we were there!” Me too.
One good thing about change is that what changes you stays with you. So I carry Italy with me here at home. The country and the experiences I had there have become a part of who I am. The experience shapes my present and will no doubt shape my future. I came home filled with inspiration and ideas that I am now executing. I am continuing my Italian lessons. And I will go back and forge new memories based on more impermanent experiences.
The other day I was reading Rumi, as I am prone to do sometimes of an evening. I rather like his take on what to do about impermanence:
“Come on sweetheart
let’s adore one another
before there is no more
of you and me”
Do you ever find yourself longing for the past? What do you do to stay anchored in the present?Categories: Italy, Spirituality, Travel · Tags: Buddha, Camogli, Capri, Faraglioni, Heraclitus, Impermanence, Italy, Pompeii, Spirituality, Vesuvius