I was walking down a hilly street in San Francisco, when a small pink plum blossom fell in front of my face. For some reason, this startled me out of my reverie, and I stopped where I was and watched this blossom descend gently to the sidewalk.
The sidewalk was covered in blossoms, beautifully fading into death like snow melting into the ground. I was captivated by the beauty of this scene, by how gorgeous each blossom was in the moment of its falling to death. The height of their beauty is a transient, impermanent, evanescent moment, fading as soon as it peaks.
I took this impermanence to heart, and this image has helped me to deal with the transience of life and with changing my habits. I promise, we’ll find a key lesson about habits in a moment, but indulge me as we talk about the nature of change.
Lesson about life & change
In this impermanent nature of plum blossoms, we can learn a lesson about change. Everything comes and goes. Arises and then passes. Nothing is permanent, but instead of being scary, this changing nature of everything can be seen as beautiful.
The plum blossom is more beautiful because it is impermanent. You enjoy it more because it won’t last forever. Each moment of life is also more beautiful because it doesn’t last. Your spouse, your child, your mother, your friend … they won’t last forever, and so each moment with them is more precious.
The basic truth of life is impermanence, and if we come to peace with that, we can find lasting peace with all changes.
Any change can happen at any time. You can fail at a habit, or get injured or sick, or lose a loved one, or lose a job, or hear a song that moves you, or find true love.
I’ve learned to embrace this change and impermanence as beautiful. Growth isn’t possible without change, because growth is change. Without change, the blossom wouldn’t have grown, and neither would the tree have grown from a sapling or seed. The seed would stay in the cold, unchanging ground if change weren’t the defining characteristic of life.
We lose loved ones, but they wouldn’t have become our loved ones in the first place if it weren’t for change. Love wouldn’t be possible without change, because a relationship grows into love by changing.
Change is beautiful. Change is growth. Change makes love possible.
By embracing change and impermanence, we find peace. Think of all the things that upset our peace of mind: feelings of irritation, grief over the loss of a loved one, a difficult situation, worry about an upcoming meeting, trouble in a relationship. These are all just passing clouds, not permanent states but temporary ones.
Life is a constantly flowing stream, always changing, floating by us — and we can’t try to grasp at the passing water. You can’t be attached to one particular drop of water that’s flowing downstream, because it will be gone soon.
Habits & flexibility
What does this have to do with changing habits? If everything is changing, what does this mean if we have a fixed plan (to change a habit, or to do anything)?
Everything changing means that our fixed plans are bound to fail. We plan on something going the way we think it will go, and then things change and the plan doesn’t work.
Now, we can respond to the failed plan in two ways:
- We can get upset or feel bad that the plan failed, and that might cause us to quit; or
- We can adjust.
I suggest that we adjust. All the time, as things change. Habits shouldn’t be fixed plans, but a continual readjustment. We should adopt a flexible mindset that adapts to the changing circumstances that life throws in our way.
The plum blossom is a visual reminder of the impermanent, ever-changing nature of things … and that includes our path to forming a new habit or making any kind of change.
If we embrace impermanence and change, we can be more flexible, because we know things will change. We expect it. We love change. And as things change, we adjust.
Mission: See the impermanence
As you write your journal entry today, reflect on how your habit has turned out so far compared to how you imagined it would go. Has it gone exactly to plan? What changes happened to cause the plan to fail? What adjustments have you made, or what adjustments could you have made? Did the changes cause you to mess up and feel bad? How will you adjust more effortlessly to future changes that disrupt your plans?