What Makes Impermanence Attractive

Impermanence is the first word that comes to mind when I land on the Island of Hawaii (the Big island). The landscape is so volatile it reminds me of our current political situation. All of the Hawaiian islands have a wet and dry side, but the dry side of the Big island is harsh, covered in black lava, as if landing on the dark side of the moon (metaphorically speaking, I haven’t actually been there). Lava continuously flows from one of the active volcanos near the shore, slowly enlarging the landscape, and adding to the ephemeral nature of this enchanted destination. God at work, as if a magician, with fire, steam, and molten lava. It’s quite impressive.

Property is cheap on the lava side of the island (imagine that), investors have bought up much of the ocean front, refashioning the scarred land into swanky resorts, with lavish golf courses, upscale restaurants, and lush foliage. Although surrounded by miles of hardened lava fields it is attractive in a primal sort of way. According to a recent study by Steve Nelson, rather than being washed away by above-ground erosion, the mountains are more quickly breaking down on the inside. Sometimes I feel much the same. 

Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines of Buddhism. The doctrine claims that all of existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant.” All things are subject to destruction including your thoughts. Buddhist believe that all suffering is due to our disordered attachments to that which is impermanent. The good news, according to the doctrine, is you continue to cycle (samsara) though many lives, until you achieve nirvana, and are released from the human condition. 

If you let go, so to speak, what can cause you pain?”

These islands are as remote as a monk seeking spiritual freedom. The coffee table book in our room said it took 30,000 years for something new to be introduced to the islands (usually by birds), like spiders and plants, as they were evolving. Paradise is a slow process, keep that in mind, we are all evolving, but due to the remoteness of our being, we are hard to find. 

If you’re visiting from California you’ll most likely wake up early due to the time difference. Bright eyed and bushy tailed every morning before dawn, translates to hiking, if you’re married to Larry. Dragging my sorry butt out of bed, slipping into previously soiled (as in sweaty) shorts and a tank, we hit the trails as the sun is cresting the mountains. It is warm and humid, the islands have a distinct smell, which is ripe, tangible, and I want to say sensual, but that seems irreverent.

The ocean front is not privately owned, even though the land is now dotted with mansions and resorts, they have to allow passage along the beach. This morning we start out on the fisherman’s trail that hugs the coastline, hiking through lava fields, and glorious black sand beaches for almost three hours. We pass so many infinity pools attached to these extraordinary estates I lose count. Oh how I want to dive in and cool off. I’m exhausted, thirsty, hungry, overheated, covered in sweat, with blisters forming in inconvenient places, and a perky partner who wants to continue the adventure. 

The rawness of the land is enchanting but I have my limits. I convince Larry that a hardy breakfast and Bloody Mary will surely revive me. Moving off trail, through the golf course, and onto a fancy resort, we find an outside bar, with good air flow, and the game on (I have no idea who is playing but Larry seems excited). I say amen to the sympathetic bartender who keeps my glass full. 

Bored with the game I start mentally developing content for my next blog (that is already overdue). I ask Larry what he thinks of the word impermanence?

He says, “Is impermanence a real word?” 

Not what I was looking for! Exasperated, I say, “Yes, like age, weight, and muscle tone. The balance of our checking account, a winning streak, the weather,” he looks annoyed so I add, “attitude, cocktails, and vacations.” He smiles.

A few minutes pass, I think he’s focusing on the game, but then he turns to me and says, “I just read an article in the WSJ called Six Seconds to Live, the article is about two Marines who refused to leave their post when a truck planning to bomb the barracks comes into view. A camera was found in the aftermath of the bombing which recorded of the last six seconds of their young lives. You should read it, I think it has a powerful message about the impermanence of life.” 

“For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing nonstop, the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground…With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.” WSJ

Just when I think the man has no depth he comes up with this? There are no words, so I sit with his story, and contemplate the meaning of impermanence. My mind saunters over to memories of my mother…

what if, there isn’t enough time, to give her what she deserves, do you think, if i begged the sky hard enough, my mother’s soul would return to me as my daughter, so i can give her, the comfort she gave me, my whole life  

Rupi Kaur

After sitting for at least a half hour in the soft breeze, I try to move my ass off the bar stool, and I’m rewarded with a full-on bodily protest. I can be a little dramatic, but somehow I manage to persuade Larry to hail a cab, best $20 dollars ever spent, because impermanence does not apply to pain. 

We spent a week exploring the island. There are beaches so beautiful you are compelled to bow down, openly wail, and give thanks. Larry didn’t wail but he was bent. The rainy side of the island is formed by lush valleys, steep mountains, and breathtaking waterfalls. Creation is pretty damn amazing, I’m compelled to renew my vows to conservation, and stewardship. We enjoy a fresh brewed coffee at a charming farm just outside of Kona where the land is low and flat. There are signs posted everywhere about the threat of tsunamis. Makes me a little jumpy or maybe it’s the coffee? 

As we enter the town of Kona I spy an open house and ask (okay, beg) Larry to pull over. He not the most cooperative type but he concedes to my wishes. It’s the island charm. The house is smack dab on the edge of the ocean, set high off the ground, a classic Hawaiian plantation. I already love it.

“Do you have your wallet?” I tease.

He doesn’t respond. The interior of the house is stunning, beautifully furnished, with appealing finishes like granite countertops, hardwood floors, and copper fixtures. We find out the young sales guy used to live in Clearlake! Small world, I consider it a sign, and eagerly request the asking price. It’s a big number. He tells us all about the property, how the current owner uses it as a rental, but is going through a nasty divorce, and has just lowered the price. I admit I’m intrigued by the idea of owning property in Hawaii, strictly as a business opportunity, but one I would have to check on frequently.

I whisper to Larry, “What do you think?”

He says with unnecessary emphasis, “Impermanence, as in shore line, disposable income, and “hot” rental market.”

I say, “I don’t think it’s a real word.”




I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.

4 Comments

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  1. Thank you Lisa, I'm so glad this post resonated with you, and just when you needed it! I marvel at how prolific your writing has become, you put out such wonderful work, on a regular basis. I don't know how you keep all the balls in the air? I appreciate the kind words, looking forward to your next post @themeaningofme.

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