Step three: Embracing impermanence to show us that our suffering can end

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crumbling sandcastle on a beach

As I reflect on this step, I can’t but help say a prayer for my dear friend, who hung herself last month, because as she wrote in her note, ‘life was too painful’. Sadly my friend is not unique in thinking this, many people have these thoughts, and some of these people eventually take their lives.

Is there anything we can do to help someone who expresses such pain?

Whatever we do it has to be unconditional. That said, the Buddhist teachings can be so optimistic, so liberating if we are ready for the teachings to appear in our lives. Living with the truth of impermanence can help us to find freedom. Even if our life is in chaos, if our life is full of suffering, we can hold onto the hope that things change. Anyone who is feeling suicidal needs to be revitalized by hope, needs to be pointed to the future. And this step can help point us in this direction.

‘Sometimes our lives feel stuck. When we are facing painful times, it can feel as though the pain will never end. …In survival mode, our mind is taken up with the pain and seems unable to look beyond it.’ Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction.

The Eight Steps

We hear of people who have been chronically depressed, and begin to feel better, and at this point they take their life. This is often because they have not been able to accept change. Some people relapse when change occurs, because similarly they have not been able to cope with change. Change can be scary. Embracing impermanence can be scary too. But when we resist it we create more suffering in our lives. This is what we need to understand. We need to understand on an emotional level step two; ‘Seeing how we can create extra suffering in our lives’. If we can really see how we create this in our lives, it will help us to embrace this third step.

The path of recovery can be tough. But know when we step on to it with all of our hearts, when we place our hearts upon the path of recovery suffering begins to change, and recovery begins to flourish.

The most important message in this step, is that we can change. Everything around us is changing and we too are changing. We can lean into change by nurturing our helpful habits and starving our unhelpful ones.

I remember the hell of my addiction. But in that hell, there was a glimmer of hope. I knew things changed. However I wanted somebody to do the change for me, or something external to initiate the change. I wanted the magic pill to make me sober. The magic cure. I had not totally embraced impermanence. I was partly in denial. I was angry, and when I wasn’t angry I was bargaining with change. I wanted change on my terms. I also wanted to control the outcome.

When we embrace impermanence we come out of denial, and accept how much we have changed throughout our lives. We accept that if we have a lapse that the next moment is a new moment and something new can possibly happen. We accept the truth of the Buddhist teachings, that there is no fixed self. That the thoughts that have fixed us, constructed us, judged us are empty. There is nothing for these thoughts to stick too. Embracing impermanence helps us to detach from the stories we tell ourselves, and that nothing is fixed. This teaching is so optimistic, if we can see the truth of it. Yes accepting change can be tough, and it is inevitable that we may need to grieve and have the sadness, over the loss of something that has been in our lives for years. But then we must move swiftly on.

To help us accept change in our lives, we ask these questions on page 92 of the book.

  • What has changed in your life during the past ten years?
  • What has changed in your life during the past five years?
  • What has changed in your life during the past year?
  • What has changed in your life today?
  • What has changed in our life in the past hour?

Now can you accept change? If not go back to these questions above and see that in this past hour the time of day has changed, the focus of your mind has changed.

If there was an end to suffering, what would it look like in your life today?

Now disappear into your breath, and then look deeply into your thoughts and see if you you can truly find the validity or solidity of them.

Step three pages 79 to 93

Eight Step Recovery is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now

Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email:

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