Long before Joseph Schumpeter, Buddhists were aware of the impermanence of phenomena, noting that everything seems to appear only to later disappear. They believed that things were empty of permanent form. The very emptiness of things lead to them being full of creative possibility. Buddhists felt that clinging, to the notion of permanency of things or even to the notion of a fixed self, was the source of our suffering. They wanted us to get our ego out of the way of the direct experience of the world. Some felt that happiness was our natural state when not obstructed by ego.

Even though I’m not Buddhist and can’t exactly grasp Buddhism, as a psychiatrist, I see how our ego-centricity gets in the way of our experiencing the life right in front of us. I bring all this up because I am trying to make a case for how profound our desire for permanence is and how it drives us towards simplistic views and away from an anxiety-producing more complex, but more realistic, view of the world.

Shenpa is the word Buddhists use to describe what we experience when this desire for permanence is frustrated. Pema Chodron is a Buddhist monk who (  has eloquently written about shenpa. She said, “Shenpa causes us to feel the fundamental underlying insecurity of human experience that is inherent in a changing, shifting, impermanent, illusory world…as long as we are habituated to want to have ground under our feet.”

According to Buddhists, a funny thing is said to happen when you renounce clinging to the security of things being permanent– you let go of holding back.  You’re like the father who runs into traffic to save his child from being hit by a car, and forgets himself. It would be interesting if we could all forget ourselves, figuratively run out in the street, and work together to save our world.

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