Impermanence

Impermanence

[This blog post is the opinion of Greg Nooney and not necessarily the view of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City.]

I have been living on Maui for nine weeks now. Every day I have gone on a beach walk, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for an hour or more. (I missed a day or two here and there.) Same beach. Usually the same time of day, around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Anyone who lives by the ocean knows this, but for those of you who do not, the ocean is relentless. Every few seconds the waves crash upon the shore. Day and night. Tide coming in or tide going out. Like your heart beat. It never stops. And every single wave crash is different than every other wave crash. It is impossible to precisely predict where a wave will hit the shore and with how much intensity. The water is not neutral in its effects. The waves ever so slowly turn rocks into sand. The waves move huge pieces of driftwood around. The waves move rocks into piles, and the waves disrupt those piles. The waves pile sand up on objects then, as an after thought, knock those object around. One day a nice piece of driftwood makes for a handy perch for this old man to sit and watch the waves. Another day the wood has been obscured by piles of sand and is no longer inviting.

Please understand that I am talking about changes that have occurred over days or weeks. I notice these changes because I walk along that beach every day, and the changes occur slowly, almost imperceptibly. Nine weeks is not even a blink of the eye when we attempt to consider larger time periods. Ho long does it take ocean waves to turn a small rock into sand? One hundred years? One thousand years? How about a big boulder? One million years? It is impossible for this human to comprehend one thousand years, much less one million years.

Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago and single cell organisms appeared about 3.5 billion years ago. It then took almost 3 billion years for those single celled organisms to evolve into multi-celled organisms. This takes my breath away. Life, like ocean waves, is relentless. It is ever changing, but at a pace that is impossible to comprehend. Intelligent design believers say, for example, that the eye could not have evolved, that it must have been created by an entity outside of the universe as we know it, who, detail by detail, created it. To the extent that we can comprehend the vast amounts of time involved in the evolutionary process, it makes much more sense, it seems to me, to see how evolution is much more likely. It is relentless. It is patient. Life is quite content to take two and a half billion years to figure out how to combine single cells into multi-cells. What is the hurry? There are no clocks. There are no intelligent beings who have decided to divide the passage of time into nanoseconds.

So I continue my walks and will do so for the next month until I leave the island and return to the midwest where there are no oceans and no mountains. But I will remember. And I will work to hold on to a different understanding of the passage of time than my iPhone tells me. I am just beginning to understand the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

May all beings be well. My all beings be happy. May all beings be free form suffering.

 

 


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