Impermanence, Letting Go, and the Dalai Lama’s Birthday (at the Beach)

On Saturday, I watched a sand palace, nay castle, washed away by an errant wave.  The architect kids handled it well.  Better than I would.  Nobody cried or pouted at the loss of their collective hard work.  Nobody gave up or retreated to a beach towel to eat Goldfish crackers out of a plastic baggy, inevitably dropping a few and promptly getting swarmed by seagulls.  The head architect, a girl with curly brown hair and a pink bikini, squealed a little and motioned for them to rebuild.

And so they did.

I smiled to myself, at the simplicity of the lesson and turned it over in my mind.  It represented the impermanence of things, didn’t it? And letting go—vairagya as yogis say.  It was fodder for a dharma talk in my next class perhaps, and it reminded me of Buddhist monks who painstakingly create artful mandalas out of multi-color sand, only to watch them swept away afterward.

It seemed fitting, as it was the birthday of the most famous monk in the world, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  He’s the head of Tibetan Buddhism and, to many, the closest living being to the Buddha himself.  He’s big on impermanence.

He’s also big on laughter, and his laugh is this jolly, tumbling thing that rollicks through the solemn air that tends to surround him.  He’s been the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, and his laughter had nothing to do with this, but you could have fooled me.  It’s like a Buddhist superpower that laugh.  Try to feel gloomy or greedy in its presence.  Impossible.

A while later, I looked up from my book to check on the architects.  Their new fortress was probably complete, with its driftwood drawbridge and a dazzling mote unlike standard issued beach motes.  Maybe they were standing now, admiring their work and giggling, warding off trespassers who might come too close, too carelessly.  I wanted to smile at their accomplishment and finish the tale of impermanence and letting go and the Dalai Lama’s 77th birthday.  I also suspected I should stop ascribing too much meaning to wet sand and just enjoy a day at the beach.

But when I scanned the shore to look for all these things: the kids, the fortress, my story’s tidy ending, they were gone.  A new game was underway or maybe lunch.  Somewhere, a shrieking laugh dove underwater then surfaced.  I would have to tell myself a new tale.  I returned to my book and flipped the page.

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  • Lindsey

    Just so lovely. Yes, yes, and yes. Impermanence is something I struggle with every single day, and I have too mused on and written about the ways in which the tide forces us to confront it in very real ways. xox

  • Sylvia Alakusheva

    This is really beautiful Rebecca! Impermanence is hard for us adults to grasp as we always try to be in control of our lives, hung up on end results and expectations. It is great to be reminded that accepting life’s impermanence and surrendering to the universe can be so freeing and invigorating.
    Thank you for sharing. :)