The essence of everything

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“Impermanence is the essence of everything,” says Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart. “Impermanence is a principle of harmony.”

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about impernance and the fleeting nature of things and of life.

The lifespan of a flower is fleeting.

The picture at the top of this page is the first tulip of Spring 2017 in my back garden a week or so back. It doesn’t look like that now.

Here’s Paolo Coelho, from The Spy:

“Flowers teach us that nothing is permanent: not their beauty, not even the fact that they will inevitably wilt, because they will still give new seeds. Remember this when you feel joy, pain, or sadness. Everything passes, grows old, dies, and is reborn.”

An octopus taking his collaborator by the hand

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The lifespan of an octopus is fleeting.

Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness has moved to the top of my must-read list after a beautiful Guardian interview with the author, by Elle Hunt. She says:

“In [this book] Godfrey-Smith charts his path through philosophical problems as guided by cephalopods – in one case quite literally, when he recounts an octopus taking his collaborator by hand on a 10-minute tour to its den, ‘as if he were being led across the sea floor by a very small eight-legged child’.”

The image of an octopus as akin to “a very small eight-legged child” is a delightful one to me. But the life expectancy of our cephalopodic friends is all too brief. Hunt refers to “their inexplicably short life spans: most species of cephalopods live only about one to two years.” Godfrey-Smith’s realisation of this is heartbreaking to read:

“When I learned that, I was just amazed – it was such a surprise. I’d just gotten to know the animals. I thought, ‘I’ll be visiting these guys for ages.’ Then I thought, ‘No, I won’t, they’ll be dead in a few months.’
A really big brain and a really short life.”

What if your mobile loved you back?

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The lifespan of a human is fleeting. From a certain point of view.

Spike Jonze’s film Her is quite an odd one, but one that’s lingered in my mind.

Set in an almost-now near future, Joaquin Phoenix portrays Paul, a gent who downloads a new sentient, AI-ful operating system to organise his life. He first selects its ‘gender’ (leading to Scarlett Johansson voicing ‘her’ – or Samantha as the system names itself). The film is essentially a tragic romance between a gent and his phone. It takes our current tech obsessions that crucial step further, with the OS learning rapidly and falling in love with (but ultimately moving on from) its ‘owner.’ There are no mortal limits to either the learning ability or life expectancy of an artificial intelligence, as Samantha quickly learns:

Samantha: “You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I mean, I’m not limited – I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die.”

Paul: “…Yikes.”

The essence of everything

This has been an odd fortnight for me. I am the world’s worst, most impatient patient. Two weeks ago I contracted a horrible, week-long cold/virus thing. I was itching for it to take a hike, and delighted when finally it did. But the day I returned to work, I managed to contract blood poisoning from (what I imagine must have been) an insect bite or sting.

Things got frightening quickly, with the bite on my hand swelling horribly and red infection spreading out and tracking rapidly along the vein in my left arm. I am eternally thankful to my in-laws and to the NHS for making sure I got the treatment I needed. Today (Saturday 8 April 2017), I’m four days into a five-day course of very strong antibiotics, which have fair knocked me out.

I am finally feeling somewhat human again this morning, and so thankful to be alive.

I was delighted to return to Twitter this morning after a few days’ absence, and to discover that life and joy are ongoing. I received a lovely tweet from my friend Tony Jackson, telling me that this week he’s not only got married, but also has welcomed a beautiful new dog into his world.

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Impernance is the essence of everything.

We must celebrate life and love, now and every day that we are so fortunate as to be here.

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