Is it possible to directly perceive change?

I remember my old Zen teacher (GR) saying that meditation helps us directly perceive impermanence.

But is that true?

As so often, the answer may be yes and no and it depends.

YES

At some level, basic meditation does help us recognize impermanence. We notice that all content of experience, including what we take ourselves to be within the content of experience, comes and goes.

Over time, we may get a more visceral sense of impermanence. We know it with our being.

As mentioned in a previous article, this can help us appreciate what’s here since everything is a guest, it can help us orient so we can find more peace with the changing nature of everything, and it also points to our more fundamental nature.

NO

This one is equally interesting to me.

When I explore this in my own experience, I realize I cannot have a direct perception of impermanence. It’s always filtered through my mental field.

Any sense of change or impermanence comes from comparing my images of what’s in my sense fields now with images of what was in my sense fields a moment ago. It comes from comparing mental representations.

Of course, I directly perceive these mental representations. But I am not directly perceiving change or impermanence. That’s something that only comes through comparing different mental images.

Without this overlay and comparing of mental images, what’s here is just what’s here without any ideas of past, future, or even present, and without any idea or sense of change.

During meditation, there have been times when this mental overlay drops away and any sense of continuity or even of change falls away with it. For instance, I had music on when this shift happened, and the music fell away. There was just a sound here and now without any experience of continuity or past notes. This state highlighted certain aspects of how my mind works and motivated me to later explore it more intentionally through inquiry.

IT DEPENDS

So it depends.

We can certainly have the experience of directly noticing impermanence. And we directly perceive the concepts that give us an experience of change and impermanence.

At the same time, when I look a little closer (or when it’s shown to me through shifting states), I realize I cannot directly perceive change or impermanence. I can only get a sense of it by comparing mental images – labeled now and then – happening in immediacy.

It depends on what we mean. Do we mean a more general and somewhat unexamined experience? Or do we mean what we find when we look a little closer?

Note: I can’t remember hearing anyone talk specifically about this, but I am sure it must be a common noticing. People may not talk about it very much because other things are more important, or because this is something we discover for ourselves in time. To me, it is somewhat important since it shows me – through direct noticing – something about how my mind works.

THE SEED

The seed for this article is from a previous one:

“Really… What’s here is here. Anything else is a mental image. I cannot find the past or future outside of my mental representations. I cannot even find the idea of “present” outside of my mental representations.

I cannot find impermanence in my immediate noticing. I can only find it when I compare my mental representations of what’s here with my mental images of what was just here. And that’s often very helpful. It gives us a more visceral sense of impermanence and that it’s ongoing.”

– from Impermanence – good to remember, the great cleanser, happening here and now & pointing to our nature

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