Learning to embrace impermanence

Image of a footprint in the sand, symobolising impermanence

“No-one ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and they are not the same person.”


A client in a professional services firm arrived at their coaching session describing a sense of doom they were experiencing after a conversation with their boss about a forthcoming change to their role.

“I just can’t stop feeling like this and the more I try, the worse I feel.”

As a coach, a core underpinning that informs my work is mindfulness. From mindfulness practice, we learn about the impermanent nature of our experience and with this awareness we start to see that — as Heraclitus describes — in our life we are standing in a river of change.

“This too shall pass!” — Anon.

In these moments, my intention is to support my clients to develop a deeper awareness of their reality — and to support them in this inquiry, I encourage them to meet their experience with more mindful attitudes. I know ‘what we resist persists,’ and how by bringing a mindful presence to these moments coachees can become more steady in the midst of change, learning about the nature of impermanence with more tolerance and balance.

I offered the client a mindful inquiry into their experience; this involved grounding their attention and dropping below their narrative (the surface) into the felt experience of the doom they were reporting. Slowing their process down, I encouraged them to bring an attitude of acceptance to this moment and allow everything to be just as it was.

When we accept our current situation, we are learning to allow things to be as they are, without trying to change them. This more benevolent approach to the difficult is a fundamental shift that alters our relationship with the unwanted. When we are not resisting this experience, we are not exacerbating our suffering.

“If you stay present something else will open. It does and it always will.” — Jack Kornfield

Staying with the felt experience in their body, encouraging the client to make room for these feelings and breathing with them, after a while the coachee reported the felt sense shifting. The feelings became sadness and then with further space, letting go and exploration, the feelings shifted again into self-love. There was important learning for the coachee here in terms of what they had been blocking — and as this happened the coachee became more energised. After a short while they wanted to move into a conversation about their career.

“The point is to take your seat in the mystery of this change and to allow your awareness to be like the depths of the ocean.” – Jack Kornfield

Impermanence, or the understanding that everything is subject to change and will eventually pass away, is a fundamental characteristic of existence in Eastern Psychology and mindfulness practice. A mindful approach to the impermanence of our experience involves cultivating a deep awareness of this truth — and accepting it as a way to reduce suffering and find a greater balance, peace and contentment.

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I have learnt that as a coach the more I orientate the client’s awareness to their present moment experience, the more they become aware of their subjective experience, the phenomena that are constantly in a state of flux. Seeing this, they become mindful of the ongoing process of movement and change; that one thing always follows another, and their experience is not static.  When they fully realise and accept this, this helps them meet the challenges within their professional and personal lives in a more resourced and balanced way.

One of the reasons mindfulness is at the centre of our coach training courses is so that we can help coaches learn principles and practices that will support them to take a more mindful approach to change (impermanence). Through this training, coaches:

  1. Develop somatic anchors for present moment attention – early on in mindfulness training, coaches learn the benefits of bringing the attention to the body, e.g. the sensations of the feet on the floor, as a way of grounding and steadying their attention in the present moment.
  2. Learn mindfulness of body practices – coaches learn through regular practices such as the ‘body scan’ that they become more connected to their somatic knowing, developing greater interoception. They learn to move from their inner dialogue to the felt sense of the present moment experience. They also practice turning towards difficult bodily sensations; the unwanted.
  3. Build present moment observation skills – through mindfulness training, coaches are encouraged to observe the impermanent nature of their own experience: thoughts, emotions and sensations as they come and go. Developing the capacity to experience the transient nature of these phenomena without clinging, resisting or trying to make things change.
  4. Deepen awareness of impermanence – through experiences of mindfulness practice and by bringing regular reflection to this, coaches start to see the impermanent nature of experience and the world we live in.
  5. Practice non-attachment – by realising that everything is impermanent, coaches can start to experiment with bringing a non-attached attitude to their coaching practice and towards all aspects of life. Non-attachment means we are fully engaged with our work and lives; and we are letting go of grasping or clinging to things and situations. We are learning to accept the inevitable change that is always happening.
  6. Experiment with living more in the present moment – mindfulness practice supports coaches to continually incline the mind to experience fully the present moment. Through this practice they are learning to let go of their attachments to past or future events and develop a deeper appreciation of the transient nature of each moment.
  7. Learn to embrace impermanence – rather than resisting or fearing impermanence, mindfulness practice supports coaches to embrace it as a natural part of existence. This acceptance allows us to have a more balanced, expansive and equanimous response to the ever-changing river of life.

Through mindfulness practice and experiencing these principles, coaches can develop a greater understanding and acceptance of impermanence, leading to a greater resilience and peace of mind when experiencing difficulties within their own lives. This exploration also creates a deeper sense of interconnectedness with the world around us.

For our work with coaching clients, this means that we will be more present, centred and will hold them in a greater resourcefulness and steadiness when we are supporting them to enquire and learn from their experience of change. It also means we will be more congruent when we are encouraging them to see the impermanent nature of the moment and their experience.

Through practice, we will see that learning to embrace impermanence leads to deep personal transformational change for both us and our coaching clients.


  • After the Ecstasy the Laundry, Jack Kornfield
  • The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, Thich Nhat Hanh

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