Vulnerability and Impermanence

I was vacationing recently in St. Petersburg, Florida, and we rented a house.  After a day of sightseeing, we came back to the house tired and hungry looking forward to a nice dinner then relaxing. But we couldn’t get into the house. The locks are operated by a keypad, and even though we tried several times to open the door nothing worked.  You put your hand on the keypad to activate it, then enter a code and the deadbolt opens. We could hear the dead bolt opening but we still couldn’t open the door. 

There are 2 locks on the door.  Below the deadbolt was another lock that locked with a small twist of the button.  Somehow, we locked the lower one too. The first and only time we did that. There was a side door but we couldn’t get into that door either for the same reason. Both locks were engaged. 

So we texted the host and waited…and waited.  It was dusk and getting cooler by the minute.  We left in the morning for a lovely, warm day of sightseeing wearing shorts and a shirt.  Now it was getting dark and cooler.  Our anxiety started going up. What if they didn’t get back to us until tomorrow?  What do we do then?  The second arrow.  Now we were really getting shook up.   

I began problem solving.  Luckily, I had my ID, a credit card, and some cash in my pocket and my partner had his wallet. We also had our car.  Sleeping in our car came into my mind briefly, before I realized we could just go to a nearby hotel and have dinner at a restaurant.  We didn’t have a toothbrush or change of clothes but the hotel could help with some of that.  

So all we could do was wait.  We sent two texts before we got a response. It seemed like a long time before they responded though it was only 20 minutes.  Finally, we got instructions on how to access the keys from a small device on the side of the door frame.  We were so nervous, it took us 3 tries to get the combination right to access the keys and get into the house.  

I felt such gratitude to finally get inside the house.  I realized we just experienced a small taste of what it would feel like to be evicted or be homeless with nowhere to sleep. We had resources, but what about the people who don’t?  Where do they stay to keep out of the elements? At that moment, I felt connected to their experience, even if it was only in a small way.  I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to have no resources.  We had resources, and still we were so rattled that it took us 2 hours to settle down.  

In just a few minutes, our planned evening was turned upside down.  

I go through life, planning and looking forward to my life going pretty much how I planned.  Then something as silly as twisting a button that shouldn’t have been twisted can bring it to a halt.

Life is compared to a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, or a bubble floating in a stream.

The Diamond Sutra

How often do our carefully planned futures not unfold even closely to what we thought? Hurricanes, blizzards, floods, landslides, war…. While I was in Florida, my home in Ann Arbor was hit with a terrible ice storm—about a 1/4 inch of ice on everything. Almost 600,000 people in Michigan were without power—including my house.  I didn’t get power restored for 4 days. All the food in my freezer had to be thrown out when I returned even though it refroze.  

Happily, my plants did ok without heat.  Small pleasures.

Impermanence or anicca, one of the marks of existence, vulnerability, change—these are all part of life.  We can’t escape them. I don’t mind some changes: those that are exciting, interesting, fun, and curious. I didn’t like this one.

In the Mahayana tradition, in the Diamond sutra, it says, “Life is compared to a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, or a bubble floating in a stream.”

We can’t go through life without planning, but when do plans get in our way? Is planning the problem or is it holding on to the outcomes?  I must admit, not getting into our house was more disconcerting than losing all my freezer food. One was imminent, the other was sometime in the future. I had time to adjust.

This idea of impermanence goes way back to ancient Greek times when Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

Impermanence is a good thing, though, according to Thich Nhat Hanh.  He says, “If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now.  Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving, and wise. Impermanence is good news.  Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change.  Impermanence is an instrument of liberation.”

Without impermanence, I’d still be waiting outside that door.

Without impermanence we could never grow up, evil dictatorships wouldn’t end, hunger wouldn’t end, and life would have less meaning. 

Was there a time recently when you felt vulnerable?  What was your reaction to it? Did you think about impermanence then or later?  How did impermanence help you or did it hinder you?  In what way? Join the conversation by leaving a reply below.

Evening Florida Sky” by Chad Sparkes is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

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About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.

One Comment

  1. Hi Erica, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. Thank you for sharing.

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