I feel like I should turn in my "Geek Cred" card, since I'm probably the only person in my group of geek contemporaries who didn't know from whence came that quote. Yes, I must admit, I have never followed Babylon 5. Nor have I followed most of the "popular" SF series like ST:TNG and its cousins, SG1 or SG:Atlantis, or the new Dr. Who or new BSG. My television watching is sporadic at best, and most recently ravynmaniac and I have been working our way through the original black and white "Wild Wild West" series (and I've been working my way through "Charlie Jade" when the mood strikes me, after snagging a copy from pafischer). I've heard good things about a number of these SF television shows, but I just haven't had the time or the desire to get caught up in them.
That wasn't my topic for this post, but I do have a tendency to digress or go off on tangents, so it is what it is. For some reason, the quote came to mind when I was musing on the subject of "impermanence" as it pertains to Buddhism. At it's most basic level, "impermanence" is the principle that everything changes, be it at the macro- or microscopic level or anywhere in between. I am not the exactly the same person I was this time yesterday, as somewhere along the lines I have shed skin, my hair has grown by some small amount, I have excreted bodily waste, and I have probably read something that has caused a [potentially] inperceptible shift in my world view. Even mountains change, although the cycle of change is often on a grander scale, sometimes spanning centuries - but mountains settle and erode, are dug into by humans, animals and the roots of growing things, and occasionally are affected by upheavals of the earth.
As an aside, I wondered for quite a while why "Destruction" was one of the Endless in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics. It later dawned on me that destruction is part of the natural cycle - that without an ending, there is no beginning.
When presented with an explanation like that, most rational people will nod their heads and agree that this is indeed the way of the world. So why is "impermanence" such a foundational tenet of Buddhism? Because what I described above has a point of reference in the physical world, where people can see evidence of change and largely accept that change is part of the physical world. However, when our point of reference is more ephermeral, in the realm of emotion, perception and thoughts, human beings are far less accepting of change. That the human body will over time eventually break down, and ultimately cease to function, is something that we can acknowledge intellectually. That the person residing in that human body will cease to exist is something that causes us great pain, even though that is as much a part of the way the world works as the physical death and decay of the human body.
Which brings me around to the topic of "attachment". The sanskrit word shenpa is translated traditionally as "attachment", and can be characterized by an unwillingness to let go of "things" - material goods, relationships, the lives of others or our own life for that matter. As with "impermanence", there are other aspects to "attachment", but I think that it is this meaning within which I have been working of late. We do not have a reaction to change until change affects us directly - that is to say, until change affects something to which we are "attached". Our favorite glass gets broken, our new car gets wrecked, our favorite restaurant closes or stops serving our favorite dish, we break up with our significant other, our best friend moves away to follow work, we lose a family member. All these things bring us suffering, because we do not want to accept that everything changes, that nothing lasts forever, that we must let go of something that we have invested with so much meaning.
This isn't to say that one should not become "attached" to someone in the sense of loving them, of caring about them, of enjoying their presence in your life. It doesn't mean that when someone dies, when a relationship ends, when a loved on moves away, that there isn't a feeling of pain, or that one should somehow stifle that feeling of pain. The experience of pain from loss at its most basic level is an honest pain, one from which we should neither turn away or run. Love and compassion are integral components of a healthy life. However, when we become "attached" to someone such that they in a sense become more of a possession, we begin to suffer needlessly. When someone dies, we cannot let them go, we cannot move on with our lives. When in a relationship, we worry about what the other person is thinking, what they are feeling, are the happy with me, are they angry with me, do they want to stay or do they want to go.
All of this because change is inevitable, because everything is impermanent, because we cannot accept change when it comes to things to which we are attached. It's not that we shouldn't care, it's that we shouldn't get hung up on it. It isn't a stoic approach, it is a soft, open and compassionate approach. If we stop struggling against the inherent impermanence of our world at all levels, then we allow ourselves to be present for what we are experiencing, and therefore appreciate the vividness of the world in which we live. That includes the pleasure and the pain, the pleasant and unpleasant.
No boom today... boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow.