Most of those in the top 1%, of anything, won’t be there for long.
The ancient Romans were quite sure their empire was eternal. It shared something with other world-conquering empires – Athens and Britain, Persia and Babylon, the Mongols and the Ottomans, the Nazis, Soviets, the French: it ended.
What do we learn from this?
Phenomena are as ephemeral as ‘writing on water’, people say. That is their way of describing the principle of impermanence.
This is confusing. It is accurate to say that things go out of existence. But people might interpret the ‘writing on water’ metaphor to mean that nothing lasts and nothing matters. That all those people in all those empires were just wasting their time.
The point of impermanence is since everything is changing all the time, everything we do produces effects and has consequences. Everything matters.
As a child, with very little time to observe things changing, it seems as if things have fixed properties and fixed arrangements. We start our lives trying to learn the physical environment and the people in it. We explore, and we interpret – this person is friendly, this one is not. This is a nice place to be. This is not.
As we gain experience we see that things change, and that people change too.
We see that things appear in the world. That they exist based on causes and conditions that support their existence – like the plants in the garden growing up in the spring.
We see that they change, continually. Sooner or later we see that things and people go out of existence too, when their causes are withdrawn, like the plants drying out late in the year, or the car we trade for a new one.
We notice that in spring new plants come up. Similar ones to the ones we planted, and some similar to the ones we weeded out. By our actions, cultivating and weeding, the ones we value thrive and the ones we do not value do not.
By using our understanding of impermanence we will cultivate our lives. Giving energy and support to what we want and hoping that, in summer and fall, we will harvest what we worked for.
If we support harmful things we will get harmful results. If we neglect the garden we get weeds. If we are careless about what we do we give up the direction of our own lives, and leave our fate to others or to chance.
In the dojo every move we make creates an effect. Every training, every class, strengthens our body, refines our skill, and creates a healthy imprint in our mind.
We create our lives by what we do. If our practice is sincere and our knowledge is good there is no way to fail. We will get the best results possible. When we encounter difficulties we can make use of them.
Our bodies have powers and they have limits. We meet people we enjoy and people who we find irritating. You never know what will happen next. But it is all included in training. It all counts.
If we use our training well we will have a strong foundation, a supple and skillful response, and we can adapt to changing conditions as effortlessly as writing in water.
And then we can flow on to meet the next set of conditions, without hesitation or hurry.
If we are desperate to build our empire, to grow as big as we can as fast as we can, wanting it to be permanent, only tolerating growth and accumulation, without regard to changing conditions, we will be shocked, shocked, as conditions change.
It is easy to be drawn into the orbit of the big.
Big institutions promise security. Influential circles promise glamor. Prominent people offer advancement. We might calucluate if those are reliable. We might also ask “Are those good?”
Children grow bigger year by year. As adults we have choice about where to direct our lives. Accumulate or refine. Expand or deepen.
We can choose our path, with our north star to guide us, free to improvise and adapt, day to day, year by year, refining our character and capacity, purifying our hearts, dedicating our lives to the people who need us.
Not bound to accumulation. Free to discard what we no longer need, and take up what we do.
Consistent, sincere action, in the dojo and outside, training moment to moment and day to day, for a lifetime, will help us stay on course, and respond when conditions demand it.
This path will sometimes wind and sometimes go straight, lead us high up and down.
But through it all our lives go straight ahead. Because we are impermanent, everything counts. Everything we do leaves an imprint, on ourselves and in the lives of the people we touch. And, good or bad, we will collect the results of what we do.
While we are here we have the freedom to avoid falling for conventional wisdom or being seduced by unconventional wisdom. We can be freed by the practice of real wisdom.
Not to get swept along by bigness, by great deeds of power, by the most toys, the most influence, the most anything, but to understand that whoever lives with joy wins. To see that deep reality exists in training the heart and the mind. That is a serious business.
It takes courage. It is simple. It is rare. But you can find people doing this, if you look.
You can be one of them.
What I would have said to my good friend the universe, back when it was very young, back when it could still fit into a corner of a pea pod, just before the big bang, is what I would say to every child and adult that trains with us:
There is no such thing as ‘too big to fail’ or ‘too small to succeed’.
Original drawing by Tarleton Brooks
Post by Jeff Brooks