The Unbearable Transience of Being


Near my current workplace there is a beautiful temple that is immaculately landscaped and rarely ever has visitors. I would visit on sunny days during my lunch breaks, for maybe 15 minutes at most. Like any classic scene in Japan, it would change character throughout the seasons - plum blossoms in early March, hydrangeas in the rainy season, and red leaves on the maple tree in autumn. The lack of visitors meant that I could sit there in silence and tranquility, only hearing the birds, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, and planes in the distant sky.

Since my work is temporary (and I’ve actually left the job once), I have always been aware that any time I spent there was destined to end, either due to the lunch bells or my moving on. It made the time more precious, knowing that. Those few minutes of peace, sometimes lying down on a bench, feeling the warm sun under the blue skies, were immensely valuable in a busy and complex world. It was the only way I could put the entire world on hold, even if just for a brief moment.

This is possibly as close as I may get to understanding mono-no-aware, the awareness of impermanence. A feeling of sadness, knowing that this is the way life is, that all good things come to an end. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize. When I was younger, sitting by the banks of the Kanogawa in Izu, or watching the lights of Sydney harbor from a pier, I had the future to look forward to, I had endless possibilities. As I get older and the world becomes so much more difficult, I now understand how rare these times are. When I can experience them now, I try to etch the scenes in my mind so that I can revisit them in my memory, as I may never be able to go back. While I feel sad, I know that I am seeing something amazing, and I am forever grateful for having lived that day.


Royce Leong