Quick Summary: The only constant is change, so why do we cling to the idea that some things are permanent?
We desperately seek the static. We crave permanence. The idea of permanence gives us psychological security. We have a need to feel safe and protected, and the presence of lasting elements in our lives helps satisfy this need. Familiarity and predictability bring comfort and reduce anxiety. When we feel we are attached to something permanent, we feel safe.
We form emotional attachments to people, places, and things. These attachments are often grounded in the desire for lasting connections and a sense of belonging. Permanence allows us to cultivate deep relationships and create a sense of identity and purpose within a stable environment.
Permanence helps us feel we are building a legacy, and helps us create meaning. We want to leave a mark on the world and create a lasting impact, to to create something that outlives us, whether it’s through our work, our relationships, or the contributions we make to society. We want to leave permanence in our wake.
We seek permanence in part because we are trying to avoid loss. We dread the the pain of losing what we value. Whether it’s the loss of loved ones, cherished possessions, or significant life experiences, we seek comfort in the idea that what we have will never leave us. By seeking permanence, we attempt to minimize the grief and sadness associated with loss.
And yet we know, in our heart of hearts, that the only constant is change. The weather— changes. Our relationships— they change. Our bodies change. Our ideas, our world, what we think is important, how we spend our time, our children, our parents— changing. All of it. The sun changes. The planets change. The universe is one, giant, changing existence. Some things change slowly, and some change fast, but nothing is really static.
This reality creates a bit of conundrum— we desperately seek permanence, but permanence is the one thing— perhaps the only thing— we cannot have. We cannot stay young forever, we cannot freeze the good moments, we cannot indefinitely preserve whatever it is we care the most about— because it will change. It is not permanent.
When we live in a way that is inconsistent with reality, we suffer. Our attachment to the idea of permanence is the granddaddy of ideas that don’t match reality. The desire for permanence is at the core of the Buddhist idea of attachment, and thus is what gives rise to the idea that attachment causes suffering.
What’s way out? How do we stop suffering? We let go of the idea of permanence. Instead of staying fixated on the idea that things are going to be a certain way forever, recognize that whatever it is, it will change. There is plenty of difficulty in our lives that we cannot avoid, but we can let go of our obsession with the idea that something will be a certain way for all time. We can recognize that the things we enjoy, and the things we don’t enjoy, will change.
This, fortunately, also applies to things we don’t like. Can’t stand this song? It will change, it will not play forever. Have a pain in your leg? It will change, it will not hurt forever. Don’t like the weather? It will change.
The recognition that everything will change hopefully also allows us to enjoy our time more, and live in the present moment. When we accept that things will change, we can let go of trying to grasp on to things, to hold tightly and try and make permanent something that is impermanent. We can replace that with grasping of forever with a recognition that however things are now, they will not always be so. Instead of trying to make our relationships continue exactly as they are, we can recognize that they will change. By accepting change in the world, we bring our perception of reality into closer alignment with the way things actually are— and by doing so, we suffer less.