Impermanence Works

There is a syllogism that Buddhists often use to illustrate the concept of syllogism that states that sound is impermanent because it’s produced by causes. Sound isn’t different from most other observed phenomena in this regard, but its example serves as a nice illustration. Like sound, the suffering caused by sound is impermanent as well, because it also is produced by a cause, and furthermore, that cause is itself impermanent. But faced with sound that I deem to be noise, as I have been over the last couple of days, I assume the sound will be, if not permanent, at least persistent, and I seem to strive to make the suffering that it causes commensurately permanent. I don’t know why I do this, but I do. There’s something about noise that undermines my sense of well-being. It’s not that the noise is all that painful or unpleasant in the moment I hear it, it’s rather that it indicates a basic vulnerability that I can’t eliminate. If I’m hearing a noise I don’t want to, then it will always be possible for me to hear another noise that I don’t want to (leaving aside the possibility of deafness, which I haven’t the sense of humor to flirt with just now).

There are certain hard, intractable truths that we all must face. We will die, we will lose everything we hold dear, everyone we love will suffer at some point. Writing those things out, knowing full well that they’re true, isn’t anything like as painful for me as hearing the heavy footfall of my upstairs neighbors. That’s how I experience the world, and I’m not quite sure what to do about that. Is it realistic to try not to be bothered by noise or anything else? Would it make sense for me to trade my sensitivity to noise for the more common panic at the thought of loss and death? I suffered through that pain when I was eight or so, and I’m kind of glad to be past it, but it didn’t occur to me that being past it was only a sort of trade. Still, even if it was a trade, it probably was a good one.

Whatever its cause, I tend to be paralyzed by anxiety, or more precisely, it tends to become depression, and I sit there, wracked and hopeless, in a state of surrender. I feel the heat and queasiness of it flow out from my stomach to my extremities, flushing my face and ears and clenching my hands and feet. I become distracted and monosyllabic. I steep in it. What I don’t do is try to change my situation or my state of mind–I commit to their permanence. If noise is disturbing my reading or my meditation, rather than doing something else, I persist in my chosen effort and seethe at its being thwarted. The situation is intolerable, and I can’t get past that single incontrovertible fact. This doesn’t help in any way, but I can’t move my attention away from the unsatisfactoriness of it.

At the height of my struggles with work this spring, my supervisor at the time kept telling me that it’s okay to be unhappy sometimes. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me, but I’m starting to get an inkling. Things had always gone so well for me academically and professionally that I’d never really been unhappy in that context before. As I became so, I took it to mean not that things weren’t going quite as they should on the project and required additional attention and remediation, but that something was fundamentally wrong and was beyond repair. I tried to fix things, but I couldn’t imagine that there was anything that could be fixed, so mostly I just lamented my fate. And there I was again yesterday, not taking advantage of any of the wonderful opportunities open to me within just a few steps or a short ride, but instead surrendering to the cruel fate of what seemed to be a ruined holiday. I failed to note that its ruination was no more than my opinion.

So after many helpful suggestions from friends, family and well-wishers, I’ve gone ahead and done things, proving the transience of my anxious mood–it’s stubborn, but it’s ultimately transient. If I go for a walk out into the dunes past Hatches Harbor or across the breakwater at the west end of town, it will cause me to feel differently. If I go get a haircut, and do a little shopping, it will cause me to feel differently. If I get an hour-long punishing massage, it will cause me to feel differently. If I read a P. G. Wodehouse novel, it will cause me to feel differently. And still to come could be seeing the seals at Head of the Meadow Beach, kayaking, golfing, and any number of hikes in and around the dunes and beaches of Provincetown.

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