Inside Yoga 282 (14/10/2019)
As we move through the transition season of autumn, leaving summer far behind and with the cold of winter on the horizon, it is a reminder that change is all around us. Change is one of the facts of life that we cannot ignore, even though we do our best to ignore or resist it.
In his teachings the Buddha focussed on change as a way of explaining our existence and how we live. He pointed out that all things are impermanent, because change and impermanence are fundamental features of everything.
As Peter Harvey writes, in “An Introduction to Buddhism”, “Mountains wear down, material goods wear out, and all beings… die. The… body changes relatively slowly, but the matter which composes it is replaced as one eats, excretes, and sheds skin cells. As regards the mind, character patterns may be relatively persistent, but feelings, moods, ideas, etc, can be observed to constantly change.”
Meditating on impermanence is a long journey because while we seek to understand what it means, we risk falling into the trap of seeking an explanation which is finite and fixed. The sentence “everything is impermanent” is short and simple, but understanding and living by what it teaches us takes time.
Stephen Batchelor points out in his book “After Buddhism”: “According to tradition, it took six years before he (the Budhha) arrived at a satisfying resolution to (his) questions. What he discovered was not revealed to him on one shattering moment of enlightenment; he did not suddenly realise the nature of Truth. He talks of his awakening as a process rather than a state, a story rather than a statement. He describes it in a variety of ways, much as you might recount a journey from different perspectives, each revealing another facet or dimension of the whole experience.”
To understand change we need to see how we grasp and hold onto to everything in our life: our thoughts and feelings, our body and health, our lifestyle and work, even questions of what is it is to be us. It is a natural tendency to be attached to and hold onto stuff, be it material (a possession) or non-material (a feeling or thought), but it is not necessarily a good way of living.
The teaching that everything is impermanent due to the constant process of change is asking us to notice and appreciate what we have in life, but not to hold onto to it too tightly. We want to do the best in our life and enjoy it as well as we can, so this teaching does not ask us to throw it all away but by understanding the way change works we can optimise in a positive way our life.
Put it this way, take an event like a party: we look forward to it and then we enjoy it, and we know it will end at some point and we accept it on a conscious level, but we still find ourselves feeling down afterwards, most likely when we wake up, because we had been attached to the high which preceded the low. This might arise sub-consciously, because we might not make the connection between the two, but this is how life can be.
Life is filled with ups and downs, waves and wobbles, leading to low feelings, like sadness or anxiety or just an empty feeling which appears to have no cause. But in contrast of the party high which we know will finish when it comes to negative stuff we feel it will last forever! Why do we become so attached to the bad and not the good?
When we feel low, angry, and other such feelings it is so easy to feel trapped and stuck, but I have found the teaching of impermanence to be a useful way of shifting the negativity. It helps us because it reminds us that everything can and will change (over time) and by using it as a tool we can shift unwanted stuff.
Letting go of our grasping nature and understanding impermanence is key; and also, noticing and being away of patterns. How often do we respond to the changing seasons of weather with a surprise?!
This is a huge subject, and more can be written, taking us down different pathways, but I will stop here, and recommend that you meditate of impermanence. The Buddha was clear in his advice: he told those who listened to him not just to nod and agree but reflect and meditate to see if what he says is true for them.
Related article: Obstacles to practice – read https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2019/05/13/obstacles-yoga-practice/
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