The Revival Of Impermanence

One of the key features of the coming age is the return of the idea of impermanence. If you are a scholar of certain Eastern philosophies, you may be familiar with the idea of impermanence: that all things must break down and fade away.

But up until the last 15 years or so, the West’s “thing” has been permanence. Let’s explore this concept and follow how it continues to be undermined in the current era.

Permanence=statues, monuments, skyscrapers, written records, family heirlooms, inherited land and residences, vaults of video archives, photo albums, even keeping a body alive way past quality of life and the idea of uploading a consciousness to the Internet.

This first took a heightened importance in human history with the transition from oral traditions of passing on information to developing written records. There was a plastic, almost dreamlike quality to the retention of stories and histories via the mind alone. But once records began to be inscribed in stone and metal, everything began to change.

Suddenly, we had “solid” source material with which to compare subsequent versions and teachings. There was a new…fixedness to things. And with that came a stubbornness, with that came a dogma, with that came an inviolate Law. And accompanying this transition to the written word was the rise of massive monuments, temples, statues, and so on; tributes to Permanence.

Now, the “American Dream” of the post-war period of the last century was obsessed with permanence. After the resulting shortages of the Great Depression and World War II, folks in America and around the world began to want More. They wanted a surplus.

And everything was built BIG: houses, furniture, cars.

After the war, they wanted to rebuild: build better, bigger structures that would last. The previous two world wars gave everyone a chilling lesson in Impermanence; and most were not interested in that philosophy. Instead, they wanted to be comforted. They wanted to feel secure.

Indeed, any people from the 1950s on—the lucky ones—did have that sense of security. They filled their lives with Permanence. They wanted life to be the way it was forever—to live in the most materially prosperous time to be alive in the history of humankind (at least…for the lucky ones).

People also began to live a lot longer—and take a greater interest in the preservation and orderly donation of their accumulated Stuff to the next generation.

But slowly things began to get just a wee bit more impermanent. You could see this most clearly in the technological advancements, especially in media such as audio and video recordings.

The playable record seemed Permanent: physical grooves carved into vinyl and other substances. There was a tactile quality about records that made “sense” even to the technologically clueless; a needle dragged over these rough grooves.

Then you had audio tape. In contrast to records, tapes were…weird. It was harder to picture the tactile chain of events that would lead a tape to yield sound. And compared to vinyl, tape was…flimsy. Ditto for VHS tapes.

But at least a VHS tape, within its colorful box, sat nice and solid on a shelf. And you could even “fix” a VHS or audio tape if you needed to; unspool, respool, reconnect with a piece of scotch tape.

Then you had CDs and DVDs. Weirder still! Less tactile. Thinner. Less…material. Just thin silvery discs.

Until you finally get to the digital download, in which all physical media has disappeared—unless you wished to “burn” the info on a DVD or keep it on a drive. But why retain any copy of it at all when you can stream it via the Internet/Cloud?

And rolled into this obsolescence of physical media were: books, paper, photos, etc.

This is a HUGE paradigm change; within a very short period of time.

A decisive event regarding the return of Impermanence was 9/11. We all witnessed together the fall of the Twin Towers—the largest structures in the world, built to last “Forever.” The impact of this on the collective psyche, in terms of attitudes towards permanence, cannot be overstated.

Some reacted by doubling-down on Permanence; figuring if they didn’t have the control over material structures like they thought they once did, they could at least stop societal Change and keep attitudes and laws “as they always were.” You know: to keep things at The Good Old Days (the good old days for the Lucky, that is).

But others received a crash-course in Impermanence, and went into a different direction. They did not want Permanence—realizing that was only an illusion anyway. Instead, they wanted to pursue Evolution. And they understood intuitively that the next steps in humanity’s Evolution were going to move further and further into the realm of non-materiality.

Paradoxically, they would also find more of a sense of “permanence” simply by slowing down and getting in touch with their soul; getting in touch with the Creator. And they realized that in comparison to the peace and security found by reaching that sacred psychic space…everything else, the material striving, seemed so precarious and transient.

In conclusion, if we see everything outside ourselves as being like a “mirror,” then the development of technology from heavy tactile physical media to merely digital twinkles in a cloud is a metaphor for our own personal evolution. Humankind initially emerged from a culture of Impermanence to one of Permanence; and now we are going full circle.

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