Everything is changing all the time

Apr 25, 2024

I went to Venice a couple of years ago; I’d never been to Venice before. And what struck me – it blew my mind – is that Venice is drowning. If you know about Venice, you know it was built sixteen hundred years ago, and they built it – don’t ask me what kind of person would think to do this – but they built it by putting these enormous trees into the ground, in the water, at the bottom of the lagoon, and then they built it on these trees. I mean, I couldn’t believe this weird place; I couldn’t get over it.

But the point is the city is drowning. I mean, of course, everything’s impermanent: buildings collapse, relationships finish, people die. But this is the thing that blew my mind: here’s this amazing city – it’s so famous, everyone loves the idea of Venice, you know, all these romantic stories about Venice – and everywhere you walk, there’s water sloshing about – it’s sinking! – and still people keep coming!

So what’s the learning from this? In Buddha’s very first teachings he’s telling us – and you don’t need to be clever or religious to know this – “Listen guys, hey, guess what, folks: things change.” It seems almost absurd to have to point it out, doesn’t it?

But we need to. Attachment has a fantasy about things, makes you get all excited, makes you anticipate, makes you want to possess the thing – and then it makes you fearful of losing it. Then, because of this clinging, we grasp on to the thing or the person in the frantic hope that they won’t go away.

But the reality is – and Buddha’s pointing this out, although it’s evident to anybody with half a brain – change is not just something that happens occasionally. The universe itself is in the very nature of change: millisecond by millisecond, things are disintegrating. It’s just the way things are. It’s not cynical; it’s not being negative. It’s reality.

But here is the thing: attachment and grasping at things as permanent – these two different states of mind – work hand in hand to cause us unbelievable pain.

Look at how we talk. Let’s say you’re hungry for a relationship – nothing wrong, have a relationship, please – and then you fall in love, and you’ll say, “Finally, I have found happiness.” What we mean by that is, “Now, I’ve got it.” Think about this. Once you get it it’s like you lock it in, permanent, forever: it’s set in stone. The very way we say this indicates how we grasp at things as unchanging: “Now, I’ve got it.” And we have got it, yes, but already it’s changing, disintegrating, moving away.

But then what might happen is we will start to think, “Oh well, things change, nothing’s permanent, nothing will last, so why bother?” “If my husband could leave me at any moment, if he could die at any moment, why bother? Why not just sit back and wait for him to die.” No! That’s nihilism.

I remember one time at a teaching one woman said she lived in fear every day that her husband would die; every day she’d worry that he could die. “What can I do?”

I said, “Well, the first thing is you have to realize he will die.” Don’t just go, “Oh, he’s not going to die.” Yes, he’s going to die, I’m sorry. You’ve got to face the reality first. You face the fact that he will die, that it will change, that everything is impermanent. You face that fact.

Then instead of fearing it, getting depressed about it, you will appreciate him all the more, and you’ll make the most of the relationship because it’s impermanent. You go to bed and you wake up in the morning, and if he’s still alive, it’s a bonus: he’s still there. So you make the most of your relationship – of everything.

That’s the correct attitude, and it makes such sense, you know? I mean, we know that. When we go away for a two-day vacation, we don’t say, “It’s not going to last, so why bother?” We appreciate it all the more because it’s only two days; we use every moment, we make the most of it.

Then life becomes worthwhile.

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