the five remembrances

the beloved zen teacher thic nhat hanh has reworded the traditional buddhist five remembrances for modern times. these are short aphorisms that can be used as the object of meditation practice, or as simple reminders of the truth of human existence.

  • I am subject to aging. There is no way to avoid aging.
  • I am subject to ill health. There is no way to avoid illness.
  • I am going to die. There is no way to avoid death.
  • Everyone and everything that I love will change, and I will be separated from them.
  • My only true possessions are my actions, and I cannot escape their consequences.


many people see these as morbid and depressing. i find them uplifting and liberating. as i read them i sink deeply into the reality of life...this is how it is. from here i can choose how i act. the fifth of these remembrances allows me freedom and carries great responsibility.

certainly i have learned about the consequences of my actions. i am living with them daily. this reminds me that, from the perspective i have now as an elder, i can make decisions with different values, different priorities than i did even ten years ago.

in the last year i moved into a property for people over 55. at 71 i’m one of the youngest people here. and i’m so happy i’ve made this choice. i wouldn’t have done this ten years ago. i made this choice when i realised that climbing up to the second floor with a load of groceries would become very difficult. i wanted to move on my timetable, not that of my landlady. she could ask me to move at any time. now i am secure in my housing and i moved when i still had the energy and motivation to choose wisely.

often this choice is made more difficult by owning property and having lived in it for decades. we become attached to the past, unwilling to grieve and let it go. and, remembrance number 4 reminds us that everything i love will change and i will be separated from them. if i truly remember this i can prepare. i can begin to let go before letting go is forced upon me by circumstances of health, finance, mobility or any of the thousands of other possibilities.

these 5 remembrances allow me to open to change, to welcome it as adventure, and to honour it by grieving. if i truly allow the loss to move through me i can be with it until it too changes. i can allow it to transmute into a different form of energy, one that might enliven me and energise me.