Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Dog bites, flowers, and impermanence

Do you remember when I wrote about being accidentally bitten by a dog?

The grandma sent me a basket of flowers, arranged like a dog with a bandaid, and a big smiley balloon.

I have kept that basket on my desk. As you can see, most flowers are brown and droopy (except for one, which  is hanging in there), and the balloon is deflated.

I find it a beautiful visualization of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on impermanence: No phenomenon is permanent, everything is constantly transitioning to the next manifestation. If the conditions of its existence are favorable, the phenomenon is here, if the conditions are unfavorable, the manifestation will disappear.

The flower transforms into compost. Compost turns into grass. Grass is eaten by insects and animals, who poop by the pecan tree. This autumn, I might be eating these flowers in the pecans I harvest, and the digested pecans might come out as words! Well, heck. Those words might show up in the newsletter I’ll be writing in November!

Impermanence also teaches me that death is a reminder to cherish life. Everything and everyone I love will eventually die, including me.

“We need to learn to appreciate the value of’ impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mindfulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving. (Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddhist Teachings, 1998)

I have a personal practice of reciting this Thich Nhat Hanh gatha (verse) every night:

“The Day has now ended, our lives are shorter.

Now we look carefully: what have we done?

Noble Sangha, with all our hearts, let us be diligent,

engaging with the practice.

Let us live deeply, aware of impermanence,

so that life does not drift away without meaning.”

This gatha inspires me with joy, gratitude and appreciation for everyone and everything I’ve been given.

When I find myself disconnected from someone, the insight of impermanence helps me realize that they might be taken from me in the blink of an eye. When I reflect on this, I find it easier to see that any struggle I am facing is smaller than our vast impermanence. And realizing this helps me to reconcile and reach out to reconnect.

What helps you to see the impermanent nature of yourself and those around you?

Looking at the wilting flowers and deflating balloon, I see the new seeds of life in it. And I feel happy, very happy.


My teacher, brother Chan Huy, advises us to start the morning with this gatha:

Beauty in death

Beauty in death

Waking up this morning I smile
24 brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and look at beings with eyes of compassion.

and to end our day with this gatha:

The day has now ended, our lives are shorter.
Now we look carefully, what have we done?
Noble Sangha, with all of our heart,
Let us be diligent, engaging in the practice.
Let us live deeply, free from our afflictions,
Aware of impermanence,
so that life does not drift away without meaning.

Are you kidding me?
He says you’re life will be transformed, if you do this for a couple of weeks.

Are you kidding me? Are you crazy? You think reminding me of my own approaching death is helping me? You seriously think that it’s gonna support a peaceful sleep?

Obedient as I am, I follow his advice. I recite the morning gatha, every morning, the gatha of impermanence every night.

No transformation!
It doesn’t transform me. It is a challenge. It triggers episodes of fear of death, of eternity, of life. I struggle with Thich Nhat Hanh‘s teachings on no-birth, no-death, the permanence of life, the impermanence of it’s different manifestations. I don’t like his insights so much, now that they become so close. How is it comforting to know that my death will bring birth to something else? That we are all interconnected? Who cares that I am part of the tree, the bird, the elephant? I want to live! And pretend I won’t die.

Something shifts in me. I see the hair on my husband’s head reclining. I look at his face, his hands. I know one day we will lose each other. One day we will die. No more touch, no more giggling, no more playing Bach together.

A sense of appreciation captures me. I realize that this is the only moment to celebrate him. This is the only moment to cherish myself. There is no other moment. Now is everything I have.

I surrender to the morning gatha. I surrender to the impermanence gatha. And my life transforms.