One pit fall that often prevents us from living an “Impermanent” life is clinging to objects or possessions. Impermanence, by definition, seems simple enough, just let the things go, let the world change. But we all struggle with letting things go. I find there are two types of clinging to objects. There is a desire to keep something broken to “fix” it, a clinging to the past. For example, when I broke my favorite cup, I initially picked up all the little pieces so I could try to glue the cup back together. Then there is a desire to keep something old or redundant just in case, a clinging to the future. When we bought a new toaster oven, I saved the old one “just in case”.
There is a desire not to waste things that still work or to repair things that are broken. This desire is admirable. There is nothing wrong with patching pants, gluing things back together, or keeping useful things that you’ll need later. The trap is when we use these phrases as an excuse to cling to the objects. When we use these ideas to prevent us from accepting change and moving on.
In the case of the broken cup. I didn’t fix the cup. The broken pieces sat on the counter to be “fixed” for months. I didn’t need the cup; I had plenty. And I honestly don’t think I had all the pieces so it wouldn’t have come together. And yet, it sat on my counter because I didn’t want to let it go. I was clinging to a past when I had the cup.
I had been given the toaster second hand. It was old. It was inefficient. It was dirty from years of use and misuse. We decided to buy a new, more efficient toaster oven. And yet, when the new toaster oven arrived, I put the old one in a pile in the garage “just in case”. Just in case the new one broke; just in case I needed it later. But just in case never came. The old toaster was buried under piles of other “just in case” things and leftover scraps from other projects. The new toaster worked just fine, while the old toaster collected dust and insects. The old crumbs and grease that were never properly cleaned all congealed together to make a sticky, dirty mess. When I finally got around to cleaning out the garage of all these old “just in case” things, I found the toaster again, buried and forgotten. Why had I kept it for years? Why was it sitting under piles of other things I hadn’t used or seen in months? Because I was clinging to the thing. I was nervous about accepting the change and letting the old one go.
Again, I’m not saying you can’t keep back ups or repair your broken things. What I’m trying to explain is that you need to take a step back and ask yourself some tough questions. Why are you keeping this thing? Do you actually need it? Are you actually going to fix it? Use it? For me, I was keeping the broken cup pieces because I didn’t want to let go of the cup. But I never really planned to fix it. I was just clinging. For me, I was never going to re-use the old toaster. If the new one broke, I was going to buy another one, not dig through the piles of other “just in case” things in my garage to pull out the bug-filled, sticky ancient one I had squired away there. I was just clinging.
Impermanence is living in the moment. It is enjoying the things you have right now, and it is accepting when things change. Objects will enter and leave your life for various reasons. Be thankful that you got the chance to enjoy these objects while you did, and let them go when it’s their time to leave. We will all catch ourselves clinging throughout our lives. It’s okay. Over the next couple of weeks, go through your garages, your closets, your storage sheds, and anywhere else you’ve hidden away things. Touch your possessions. Are you really going to fix this? If something happens in the future, are you really going to dig this out and use it? Or are you just clinging to these things? Be honest with yourself, and accept that sometimes you’re clinging to something, either a past that will never be again or a future that will never happen. Open up your space for new things. Open up your world to new experiences. Don’t let the past weigh down your present. Don’t let a hypothetical future weigh down your present. Be here. Appreciate your life, because the cup will break someday.