Follow Me on Twitter

Friday, June 25, 2021

Musings on Impermanence: Annals of Success and Life

    Readers, I am a creature of habit. I like to eat the same breakfast from the same bowl and drink the same coffee from the same mugs. I have done this on the regular, as they say, for quite some time. Now, I sometimes change my habits, but for the last several years, I have eaten the same breakfast nearly every day (steel-cut oats). And mid-morning, I drink a cup of coffee. I use the same lovely, handmade mug, of a set of two, given to the husband and me for our wedding. And I use the Moomintroll bowl given to the 19-year-old some time ago by her uncle—the Moominbowl. Indeed, that bowl was given to the 19-year-old so long ago, I had conveniently forgotten that, technically, the bowl was not mine; she reminded me not long ago that she would be taking that bowl with her when she moves out—a startling reminder of more than one truth, if I am completely honest. Daily, unless the dishwasher cycle prevented me, I reached for the bowl, I reached for the mug. 

One morning, I reached for the mug, and I thought to myself, Self, we have had these two mugs for a very long time, as long as the husband and I have been married, and they are unique mugs and special, and isn’t it amazing that they have lasted this long. 

    Well, Readers, you are all clever, so you know what happened. It didn’t happen exactly next, but it happened soon after. Having survived seven moves, two children, one dog, and the arrival of two puppies, one of the two mugs went kaput. 
    I once had a housemate who referred to precious objects as “on preservation.” Her precious objects were somewhat dubious in quality. A broken teapot, for example, was on preservation. As were some quite worn items of clothing. She fully embraced wabi-sabi. But, and here again, I must be honest, I totally understood what she meant. “On preservation” meant worn or used almost to not wearable or useable anymore; since the object was beloved, though, she would mete out the times she used the thing, so it would last longer. I realized that I did the same thing. Combined with my other propensity to hold off on using something new, almost until I forgot I had it, so it would always be new, this meant the period of using an object freely and without concern was truncated at either end by anxiety about keeping the thing. 
    However, since that time of the slightly nutty but enjoyable roommate, I have tried to take to heart my Aunt Wisdom’s maxim about things: Don’t Pickle It. I have written about this maxim before. It reminds me that a thing is a thing and it’s only of use if I use it. So enjoy it. Use it. Appreciate it. 
    Shortly after dropping one of the precious mugs, I reached for the Moominbowl. Ever since the 19-year-old mentioned taking that bowl with her when she leaves home, I had thought about that statement and felt, maybe, a frisson of guilt mixed with a soupçon of devil-may-care as I prepared my oatmeal in it. Perhaps that is why shortly after the mug bit it, the bowl dove to the floor and smashed itself into smithereens.  

On Preservation and Don’t Pickle It are two approaches to dealing with something unbearable about life: things don’t last. Life is impermanent. Don’t Pickle It is probably the healthier approach; you enjoy a thing until it’s worn out, and then let it go. On Preservation is about hanging on to it, probably past its usefulness. 
    Let us not forget Save It Forever, which is the dumbest of all, for reasons so obvious I don’t need to elaborate them. Do I? A girl I knew in fourth grade got a birthday cake in the shape of a heart that was decorated so beautifully she didn’t want to eat it. They put it on the mantel and let it sit there. I don’t know for how long. Maybe her brother’s boa constrictor ate it after he got loose. I didn’t go to her house after that.  
Old mug, new Moominbowl

    Now that I’m down to one mug of the pair, I am tempted by on preservation. The Moominbowl was irreplaceable, I discovered to my guilt; however, I found a very nice substitute, same size, same shape, different images. It took about eight hours for the 19-year-old to notice the new bowl when she returned for the summer. I think twice before using it, but I still do. Not every day, though.

    The point is, we get attached to things, and sometimes the attachment is out of proportion. Attachment is what relationships are made of, but so is change and impermanence. To successfully navigate life, we have to come to terms with this paradox. My way is not especially unique or healthy. However, I know a couple of things. Habits are important because they make life easy; they also give it a kind of permanence. This is reassuring, unless the habits become rigid or obsessive, used to ward off thinking about things like impermanence and change and how scary those things can feel. A cake should be eaten. A shirt should be worn. A teapot that is broken? Unless you have the pieces and can repair them with gold and turn it into kintsugi, it should be allowed to go. Even then, you will have to say goodbye to it someday. 


  1. Beautifully said. I have three Moomin mugs from a set of four Id love to pass on to your daughter! Send address! Empty nest downsizing here!!

    1. Oh, thank you! I emailed you. Did you get that?

  2. Loved this. Am often similarly conflicted over the use of favorite items (mugs, bowls, and clothes…)

    1. Thank you! So nice to see a comment from you again!

  3. Love you post. It's a reminder to use the things we love and not to get too attached to things in the first place.

    1. Thank you, Ellen! It's a practice, not a one-shot deal.