Psalm 144:4, “Man is like vapor, his days are as a shadow that passes away.”
Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away; and the sea was no more.”
For months, I have been pondering the idea of impermanence. I’ve been reading Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, researching Buddhist teachings on impermanence, and perusing the Bible for understanding. I’ve contemplated our lives being “like vapor” “that passes away”.
Oxford Dictionary defines vapor as “a substance diffused or suspended in air; especially one normally liquid or solid.” Vapor starts with something more tangible—a liquid or solid that is experienced through touch.
My musings led me to how our essence takes different forms. The scripture from Revelation offers the imagery of a new heaven and earth once “the first” has passed away. Essence or spirit has re-solidified. Forms are impermanent and change, but the vapor—the spirit—continues.
We know that our containers—jobs, relationships, habit patterns, beliefs, interests—change throughout the life cycle. The fundamentals of psyche—our heart’s desires—are constant, but the outer manifestation differs. Long-term friendships and intimate relationships are one example of how spirit reaches transcends a particular time, place, and form.
Christianity espouses the cycle of birth, death, and resurrection. The primary church celebrations mark these events in the life of Jesus. They affirm the reality that death is the impermanence of form, but not the impermanence of essence. I wonder if we need to spell this out more often. If we truly embraced that new life only comes on the heels of death, I imagine it would make living through normal life changes less terrifying.
We know from science that our cells have a life span. Our body automatically sloughs off dead cells and new ones are born. This cycle of birth, death, and resurrection (regeneration) keeps us alive. Our essence/spirit continues to flow through the process. This also happens automatically (if unobstructed) in our emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies.
I work with people every day who are stuck in deadening thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. Their bodies continue to regenerate, but their mind doesn’t. They want something to be different, but ego is afraid to let old, familiar ways die. They fear their essence will disappear forever instead of returning to watery, earthly states of new feelings, thoughts, and actions.
To practice birth, death and resurrection, we have to tolerate, and begin to trust constant change and flux. Most of us want stability from outer situations that do not vary. We want the familiar and predictable. We close ourselves off to rebirth as we are afraid of the destruction that is necessary for rebirth/growth.
The needed destruction is often a simple change in one’s daily routine, an alignment of time with priorities, or a setting of boundaries in relationships. Major shifts in consciousness may require bigger destructions such as career changes, relationship losses, divorces, or lifestyle changes. These feel annihilating when we forget that resurrection—the appearance of our new self–only happens after death/loss.
As we remember that resurrection/new life comes after death/loss, we have courage to grow. We willingly give up destructive habit patterns, self-negating thoughts, demeaning relationships, and ego control. We trust that such losses are doorways to new beginnings. The vapor that fades away returns in the new heaven and earth of our body-mind.
Inner Reflection and Outer Action
Where are you afraid of something dying in your life? What is the Inner Divine Spirit, the larger Self, wanting you to express in a new way? Imagine how you might live into this. What emotions, thoughts, values, and impulses arise? What action can you take in this direction? Identify how to support yourself and take the next step forward into your fullness.