The impermanence of life

Glauce Fleury

The only life events we can be sure of in this material world are birth and death, so what happens in between must be special. I grew up listening that we need to leave everyone with a smile on their face. But I learned (not much later) that I’d be left with tears too.

And it’s okay.

People pass. At some point, we all transition to another dimension. Sometimes we’re ready to leave, sometimes we’re not. But, most of all, we’re never ready to let others go. Some call it love. Others, attachment.

Living in the present helps us understand that everything is impermanent. When we accept this idea, changes start to affect us not like a punch, but like a breeze.

We’ll keep experiencing feelings (neutral sensations), and slowly we’ll get rid of the emotions (negative sensations) — these ones occur when we attach a label to what we feel. The label is what brings suffering.

There’s  a Brazilian song named O Mundo é um Moinho that represents perfectly what I’m feeling, even if I’m trying to not label it. It was written by Cartola, considered the major samba songwriter of all times.

According to some news outlets, Cartola wrote this song to his adopted daughter Creuza. He was reflecting on what life would hold to the 16-year-old girl, about to start her adult life. Its abstract ideas serve all of us.

In English, O Mundo é um Moinho means The World is like a Mill. One verse reads, “Preste atenção, o mundo é um moinho / Vai triturar teus sonhos, tão mesquinho,” which means, “Pay attention, the world is like a mill / It’ll grind your dreams, so mean.”

Cartola also wrote, “De cada amor tu herdarás só o cinismo / Quando notares estás à beira do abismo / Abismo que cavaste com os teus pés,” which means, “From each love, you’ll be left with cynicism / When you realize, you’re at the edge of an abyss / The one you dug with your feet.”

It’s because of the title that I said above that living in the present helps us accept that everything is impermanent. I see “The World is like a Mill” as a metaphor for life changes.

Artistic licence allows Cartola to go to extremes by seeing the world as mean and ready to grind our dreams. But in real life, we can make an effort to achieve as much as we can regardless of how the world treats us.

The concept behind Cartola’s song shouldn’t stop us from living, but in fact make us live every second as if it was the last one. “This too shall pass,” remember? “This” can be either good or bad.

If you don’t like the mill comparison, what about this one? According to Buddhism, life is like a river: a series of different moments, joined together to give the impression of one continuous and unified flow. But it’s just an impression because life changes continuously.

And this takes me back to the first paragraph. Last week I was left with tears after someone’s passing, and for a moment I rescued old, negative emotions instead of accepting my present, neutral feelings.

When I realized that, I returned to the present, accepted the impermanence of life and, then, instead of the punch, I could feel the breeze.

There’s also beauty in sadness.

Photo credit: © Fred Moore under Creative Commons via Flickr



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