I sat on the front porch step taking in the fresh air, the screeching of some blue jays, and the beauty of natural things.
Then it happened.
A shimmering dragonfly landed on my left knee. I held my breath so as not to startle the graceful insect. It remained on my blue jeans for perhaps 15-seconds while it fluttered its wings. Then it darted upwards then downwards to skim the concrete in search of prey.
Dragonflies are some of the most beautiful, amazing creatures. I think they look like helicopters. Was Leonardo da Vinci inspired by the dragonfly when he thought up his version of the copter?
Part of the beauty of dragonflies is their transitory nature. The adult stage of the insect is relatively short compared to the rest of its lifespan. In this respect, the little creature that stood on my knee confirmed the impermanent nature of reality. We humans need reality checks like this in order to counter our species’ hubris.
Artists from various cultures have used the images of dragonflies in their paintings and drawings throughout the ages. They have represented the transitoriness of life. The beauty of natural lifeforms in art is poignant and illuminates the wisdom of remembering we are all mortal beings.
“All things are only transitory.”–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Shakyamuni Buddha repeatedly taught, “All compounded things are impermanent.” Science has determined that everything degrades over time. Things that degrade range from the smallest atomic particles, to stars, and probably the Universe. Since all of us are formed from “star matter”, we are also impermanent. This fact is in direct opposition to our notion that we are permanent beings, whose essence will somehow live on forever.
We go about our daily existence becoming attached to our opinions about various things and concepts. We hope they will last forever. People who challenge our notions of permanence are subject to our wrath. However, once we mature to the reality that the mental construct of “I” is transitory, we have discovered one of the keys to happiness. The wisest teachers throughout the ages understood that there is no such thing as a permanent, unchanging “I” that inhabits or is one’s human body.
Perhaps the most dangerous mental aspect is ego-attachment. This is when we closely identify with a career, social status, or belief system. When the natures of these change or go away, we feel devastated. We develop emotional armor in order to guard our fragile egos. As a result, this armor can repel us from one another. Of course, there is no actual thing as impenetrable armor.
When we accept and embrace the reality of transitoriness we suffer less, live much more deeply, and experience more joyful moments. This realization enables us to fully appreciate our lives.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this passage from Hermann Hesse: “It was as if all of the happiness, all of the magic of this blissful hour had flowed together into these stirring, bittersweet tones and flowed away, becoming temporal and transitory once more.”