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.


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.


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.


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 others 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.

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

To the extinct, the lost and the forgotten. Everything that comes together is destined to fall apart.

– Yuval Noah Harari in the foreword to Spaiens, the Spanish graphic novel version

Everything that comes together falls apart.


It’s good to remember.

It helps us appreciate what’s here even more. Anything in my life now, and anything in my direct experience, is a guest. It all comes and goes. And it will never be here in the same way again.

It can also help us find more peace with all that inevitably falls apart, which is everything. Everything and everyone we know will fall apart. All of what we know will be forgotten.


Impermanence is the great cleanser.

Existence takes a certain form, and then another, and everything that went before is gone.

At most, it exists for a while in our imagination, but that will eventually be gone too. Impermanence wipes the slate clean to allow itself to take new forms.

Without death, there cannot be new life. Without the death of individuals, there would not be room for new individuals. Without the death of species, there would not be room for new species. Without the death of stars, none of what we know would be here. (Apart from stars and space.) Without the death of this moment, there would be no new moment.


We can find impermanence in stories, as described above. We know from our life, history, and science that everything changes.

And we can also find impermanence in our immediate noticing, or at least in a combination of our immediate noticing and our mental representations.

What’s here is here. I can find the previous moment in my mental images and stories. And I notice that what’s here is different from what happened previously.

What’s here is here. What’s here is always fresh and new. It’s never been here before. It will never be here again. It’s different in kind from any idea about past or future since those are ideas. (1)


Impermanence points to my more fundamental nature.

I assume that’s why impermanence is such a focus in Buddhism. It’s not just to help us appreciate what’s here or psychologically prepare for all falling apart, which is valuable in itself. It helps us find what we more fundamentally are.

Apart from some types of inquiry, basic meditation may be the most direct and effective way to explore impermanence.

We notice and allow what’s here. (We fail. And notice that what’s here in our field of experience is already noticed and allowed.)

Over time, we notice that any and all content of experience comes and goes, including whatever we assume we are. Everything related to this human self comes and goes in experience. Everything related to anything we can take ourselves to be – a doer, an observer, etc. – comes and goes in experience.

I cannot most fundamentally be any of that since all of it comes and goes in experience. Anything within the content of experience comes and goes.

We have discovered what we are not, and out of habit we may still look for what we are within the content of experience. Finding what we more fundamentally are requires a figure-ground shift. And this can be guided by some forms of inquiry. (Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and so on.)

I find I more fundamentally am (what a thought may call) capacity. I am capacity for the whole field of experience. I am what the field of experience happens within and as.

And any ideas of that happens within the content of experience, come and go, and is not what I more fundamentally am.


(1) 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 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.

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What is it that doesn’t come and go?

In basic meditation, we notice and allow any experience that’s here.

We notice it’s already allowed and noticed.

And we may notice that any and all experience comes and goes, including what we take ourselves to be.

So what is it that doesn’t come and go?

If we are asked that question, our mind will likely look for something within the content of experience. After all, that’s what we are used to looking for, and the word “what” may also suggest we are looking for a kind of thing.

But this what doesn’t refer to a thing. It refers to what our experiences – the world as it appears to us – happens within and as.

And although it’s what we inevitably are most familiar with, it’s also ephemeral and unpinnable. It cannot be pinned down by thoughts or concepts.

Our mind will create mental representations of this and call it oneness, love, consciousness, or something else. Our mind may also mistake these mental representations for what they point to. So it’s helpful to be aware of these mental representations and examine them and notice that these too happen within and as what we are.

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Awakening comes from and is a kind of maturity

Through an imagined dialog with someone who has lived for eons, it became more clear to me that awakening – noticing our nature – is, in a way, inevitable with enough time and experience. Especially if we have some receptivity and curiosity.


Why? Mainly because all content of experience comes and goes, and that includes anything we may take ourselves to be within the content of experience.

Given enough time, we gain a great deal of familiarity with this. With some receptivity, curiosity, and authenticity, we will eventually consciously recognize it. And that leads to the realization that we cannot most fundamentally be anything in particular within the content of our experience.

So what are we, more fundamentally, in our own first-person experience? We may find we are what the world, to us, happens within and as. We are what this human self, others, the wider world, thoughts and ideas, feelings, states, and anything else happens within and as.

Since we don’t live for eons, this natural process tends to not come to fruition in most cases.

And we can compress and support this natural process so it does come to fruition. We can engage in basic meditation, noticing and allowing any content of experience. (And notice it’s already allowed and noticed.) We can explore what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. We can use pointers and practices from a range of different traditions. We can find someone familiar with the terrain to guide us.


In this way, we can say that awakening comes from a kind of maturity.

It’s a natural process that may be more or less (?) inevitable given enough time.

It’s a natural process that can be compressed and sped up through various practices and intentional explorations.

And it’s a more mature way of noticing and living. It’s the oneness we are finally recognizing itself as any and all experience, as the world as it appears to us.


There are several connections between awakening and maturity.

Awakening itself is a kind of maturity. It seems to come as a natural result of noticing the reality of our experience, which is a kind of maturity.

Awakening is supported by several types of maturity. It’s supported by ordinary life experiences and noticing patterns, including that all content of experience changes. It’s also supported by innate characteristics present when we are more healthy and mature. For instance, receptivity, curiosity, sincerity, and authenticity. And from sincerely wishing to know our nature, or truth, or love, or the divine.

Awakening tends to support this human self to mature further. It can open up for and deepen sincerity, authenticity, and receptivity, and a sincere wish to know our nature, truth, love, or the divine.

Our relationship with our nature matures over time and through familiarity. We deepen into it. We explore how to live from and as it. We may even explore how to share it with others, as travelers shares stories of the places they are familiar with.

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Basic meditation: Notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed

Basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s here – in the content of our experience – as it is.

We notice and allow whatever is here whether it’s sensations, sounds, sights, and so on.

This also and especially applies to noticing and allowing any resistance, discomfort, and any experience we tend to habitually reject.


At first, this may seem like something we intentionally do, and that’s not wrong. We may intentionally notice what’s here and seek to allow it as it is.

And we’ll inevitably fail. We’ll notice we are not always noticing what’s here because we get caught up in stories. We cannot intentionally notice everything in our field of experience. And we sometimes struggle with allowing what’s here as it is and instead go into resistance and distractions.

All this is normal. It’s what humans do. It’s what the human mind does. It gets distracted. It struggles with its own content.


After a while of this trying and partial failing, we may notice that what’s here is already noticed and allowed.

Consciousness already notices what’s here before it’s reflected in any intentional and conscious noticing.

And what’s here is already allowed even before any intentional allowing. It is already allowed – by mind, life, and existence.

When we rest in this noticing, we can more consciously align with the noticing and allowing inherent in what we are, and we can allow the noticing to work on us and do its magic with us.

In our nature, there is no failing in basic meditation. Our nature inherently notices and allows.


This inherent noticing and allowing even allows apparent distraction and resistance.

This inherent noticing and allowing is our nature and, over time, we get familiar with it as our nature.

There is a kind of center of gravity for what we take ourselves to be, and this may gradually shift. (It shifts from something particular within the content of experience to what’s capacity for all of it and what it all happens within and as.)

Any sense of being anything within content of experience is part of what’s noticed and allowed and not what we must fundamentally are. 

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What’s most important to the divine?

What’s most important to life or the divine?

Of course, we cannot know for certain.

And the question itself rests on a lot of assumptions that are questionable.


But if all is God or the divine, then there is a simple answer.

What’s most important to the divine is what’s here now.

If something else was more important, that’s what would be here now.


From here, we see that for the divine, suffering, eradication of species, and the possibility of ecological disaster and the collapse of civilization is more important than constant bliss and comfort for all beings all the time, or preserving all lie and species, or even preserving this civilization.

If one civilization goes under, the divine may create itself into another. If one planet goes dead, the divine may – through evolution and over time –form itself into another living planet.

As life, we are naturally biased towards life. We love life. But who is to say that life is inherently better or more important than nonliving parts of existence? The nonliving parts seem far more common, so those must also be important to the divine.


In a sense, the divine is wildly reckless.

What’s here now is gone the next moment and something else is here. (A thought may say it’s the same, but when we look more closely, we may find that what’s here is always new.)

The divine forms itself into what’s here, into something that has never existed before, does not exist any other place, and will never exist again. And then it’s gone and the divine forms itself into something else.

The divine is like a sand artist on the beach, creating amazing sculptures knowing they will be gone without a trace – apart from the sand itself which is ready to take other forms.


Of course, what’s important to the divine is also experiencing bliss, happiness, joy, working to preserve life and protecting ecosystems, and so on, because that’s also happening through many of us.

The divine is wildly diverse. It wipes the slate each moment and allows for something new and different. It has both stable and wildly reckless sides. And we can even say that the divine seems to take some delight in the wild diversity of it all.


These are all stories about existence as a whole.

We can also ground it and find it here and now.

To us, this is all happening within and as what we are. We are all capacity for the world as it appears to us, and it happens within and as what we are.

The nature of what I am is to form itself into all my experiences. Each one is new, fresh, and different from what has been and what will be. Nothing leaves any trace. (Although we tell ourselves it does through our mental representations and as part of dynamics and patterns we can reflect in our stories.)

My nature is wildly reckless. It forms itself into my experience here and now, wipes the slate clean, and forms itself into something new. (Again, my stories will create a sense of continuity, but it’s not here in immediate noticing.)

My nature forms itself into whatever is here, including suffering, struggle, reactivity, hangups, delusion, enjoyment, comfort, kindness, wisdom, insights, and so on.

And I can add stories to this. I can say that this is the most important to existence or the divine, and that may not be wrong. I can say that life or the divine enjoys the wild diversity of it all, and although it’s an assumption and kind of projection, that may not be exactly wrong.


Any worldview has practical consequences, and those are arguably what is most important in any worldview.

So what are the practical consequences of this one?

I notice that this one helps me be more open to considering that what’s here now is what’s most important to the divine and life. It helps me shift out of a worldview based on my own personal preferences. It helps me hold my own personal preferences less tight.

It invites me to find here and now what this worldview points to. I can find the freshness of any experience here. I notice the constantly clean slate allowing for something else and new.

I also find that holding my preferences more lightly is not compatible with acting from whatever wisdom and kindness is here, it creates space for doing just that. It invites me to act from the more kind and clear sides of myself and do my part in preserving life and supporting this civilization to transform into a more life-centered one. 

Note: This is a slightly rambling and unfocused article. One reason is my fatigue and brain fog which often makes it difficult to keep a clear focus and organize articles well. I may go back and redo this one later, or just leave it as is. We’ll see.

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Putting energy into something that’s temporary

I am about to embark on a relatively large and long-term rewilding project. And I notice one small voice in me saying: Why do it when it may all be temporary? As soon as you are no longer in charge of this land, someone else will take it over and that person may make it all into farmland or housing development.

Yes, that’s true. And yet, all is temporary. Everything I put energy into is temporary. This universe and everything it makes itself into – including all beings and all human culture and achievements – is temporary.

This is no different.

If I was not to put energy into something that’s temporary, I would end up putting energy into nothing at all.

I prefer to play the game. To put energy into something that’s temporary, including this regeneration and rewilding project.

It feels deeply right. The land is calling to me. I cannot find any good reason to not do it. So why not do it? Why not enjoy the project – with all the challenges and joys that come with it?

In this case, at the very least, it will benefit the many beings that live and will live on this land for the coming years. That, in itself, makes it more than worth it.

The gifts of impermanence

There are many gifts in impermanence.


We can say that impermanence happens in two areas of life.

One is in the world, in a conventional sense. Nothing stays the same. Even mountains change and erode over time. Everything we know and know about will eventually be gone. Eventually, everything human will be gone. This universe as we know it will be gone. It will be as if none of it ever existed.

Another is in my immediate experience. Here, I find everything is always changing. All the content of my experience is always changing, always fresh and new.

In both of these cases, reality continually wipes itself clean. What’s here is gone and something else is here.

Reality is radically impermanent.


When we recognize this within the realm of ideas and stories, we can find many gifts in it.

We can see that impermanence is what makes anything possible. Without the radical impermanence of existence, everything would fill up quickly and there wouldn’t be space for anything else. Impermanence is required for anything to exist in the first place.

At a more personal level, it can help us notice and befriend any fear and issues that come up in us from noticing impermanence. And some of us engage in this exploration collectively, which helps transform our culture just a little bit.

Knowing that all comes and goes helps us not take anything for granted. The people in my life, the place I am, my health, and so on, may and will all be gone eventually, and it can happen far sooner than I imagine. It can all be gone at any moment. So why not appreciate it while it’s here? Why not enjoy it? Why not enjoy even the things my personality doesn’t immediately want to enjoy? It will all be gone soon enough.

It will all be gone one day. I will be gone. Everyone I know will be gone. Everyone who has ever heard about me will be gone. Everything I produce and create, even if I am the most well-known artist or scientist, will be gone. All of human civilization will be gone. One day, it will all be gone. So why not do what’s meaningful for me? Why not do what makes me come alive? Why not do what’s juicy for me? Why not live from what’s most important to me? Why not live from what’s more authentic for me?


There is also a gift in noticing the impermanence inherent in our own experience.

If I look, I may notice that all content of my experience is always changing. I can explore this through basic meditation or different forms of inquiry, including sense field explorations.

In a conventional sense, I am this human being. But can that be what I more fundamentally am? Can I be any content of experience, including anything my thoughts tell me I am, if it’s all changing?

What am I, more fundamentally, and in my own first-person experience?

I may find that my more fundamental nature is capacity for all this changing content of experience.

I am capacity for all of it, and what it all happens within and as.


So there are several gifts in impermanence.

It makes anything possible.

Recognizing it in a conventional sense can help us become more comfortable with the inevitability of impermanence. It may help us appreciate what’s here a bit more, including what our first impulse is to not appreciate. It may help us free ourselves to live from what’s meaningful, juicy, and alive for us.

If we notice impermanence in our own immediate experience, it can help us question the idea that we are most fundamentally anything particular within the content of experience. And it can help us find what we already are, in our own first-person experience.

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The Ship of Theseus: who & what we are

What defines us? What makes me me and you you?

If you over time replace all parts of a ship, is it still the same ship?

This is literally an ancient question, and there are many answers.


First, we can look at our human self.

Just like the ship, the parts of our physical body are replaced over time. The molecules making up this body right now come from innumerable sources and each one has a fascinating story we can only guess at.

The patterns of our body is more stable but also changes over time. We can still recognize a liver as a liver and a heart as a heart, but it’s a bit different now than it was before.

The patterns of our psychology is similar with some stability over time along with change.

Some of our most basic and original labels and identities may stay the same throughout our life, like our birth name, birthplace, birth time, and national id number. And some may or may not change, for instance, our name, nationality, sexual and political orientation, food preferences, and so on.

We have memories that create some sense of constancy. We remember our childhood and generally what we did and where we lived through our life.

Perhaps most importantly, we collectively agree that you are you and I am me even if we change over time.

In short, it’s all changing, the one constant is some of our most basic labels, we agree that we are basically the same even if we change over time, without memory there wouldn’t be any knowing of who we were or are and sense of constancy, and it’s conceivable to have a society where they agree on a different way to look at all of this.


There is something timeless here, and that’s what all of this happens within and as.

When we look, we may find that in our own first person view, we are capacity for all of this, we are what our field of experience happens within and as.

We are what any mental representations of time and space happens within, and any memories and ideas of change happens within and as.

All of this change, our labels and memories, and our collective agreements happen within and as what we are.


Why is this important? Is this anything more than a thought experiment?

It can certainly be just a thought experiment, but we can also take it further.

All of the insights above under “who we are” helps us notice what we are.

We may recognize that all of our human self is changing and subject to change, and that our labels and memories and collective agreements are what tenuously hold it all together. It can seem scary to really take that in, especially if that’s all there is.

We can take this a few steps further.

We may notice that our experience is always changing. What’s here and now is fresh and different from the past.

We may notice that any sense of change comes from our mental representations of a timeline with past, future, and present, and certain things placed in each of those categories. We wouldn’t have any ideas about change unless we had images of the past (memories) that we use to compare with our images about what’s here (present).

What’s here in our sense fields is all there is, and any sense of past or future can only be found in our mental images and ideas. Even an idea about the present comes from mental representations about the present, including what’s here in the other sense fields. (One step behind what’s here.)

From here, we may notice that we are what all of this happens within and as. We are what our sense fields, including our mental field with ideas about past, future, and present, happens within and as.

When we notice what we are, all this change is OK. It’s even a gift since it helps us notice what we are.

Of course, recognizing change doesn’t inherently bring us to this noticing. Most of the time, we just live with change and often pretend things change less than they do. But if we are open to this noticing, and perhaps have the guidance and tools for noticing, recognizing change and impermanence can be very helpful.


In a conventional sense, recognizing change can help us appreciate what’s here more. This moment will never come back. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In reality, it’s a once-in-all-of-existence experience. It will never happen in any other place, and it will never happen any other time.

And in our own immediate noticing, we may find that what’s here is really and literally all we have. All we have is what’s in our sense fields – sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, and mental representations. The past and future and any ideas about the present can only be found in our mental representations here and now.


Understanding and exploring this within thought can be interesting but it’s not transformative. If we are looking for transformation, we need to notice directly and allow this noticing to transform us.

We can do this through traditional sense field explorations, or modern varieties like the Living Inquiries. And we can notice more directly what we are through guided inquiry like the Big Mind process or Headless Experiments.

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Losing what wasn’t mine

Over the recent years, I have lost many things: health, house, money, belongings, opportunities, and so on. If I think these things were mine, it hurts.

In the moments I go into the story that these were mine and life took them away, I experience anguish, regret, pain, fear, blame, inability to move on, and so on.

Fortunately, there is another side to this.


Is it true these were mine? Is it true I can, truly and honestly, own these?

What I find is that I can never own any of these. I cannot own any object any more than I can own any of these thoughts, feelings, or insights, or any distress, clarity, or confusion, or even this body.

Of course, in a conventional sense, I can own certain things. But that’s a convention. It’s something we agree on and it’s reflected in the law.

The reality is different. The reality is that I cannot own anything. The closer I look, the more the idea doesn’t even make any sense.

All phenomena live their own life. I don’t have the ability to ultimately control what stays and goes or when it goes. We intersect in time and space and then move on in different directions.

In a very real sense, they are all visitors. I am a visitor in their lives.


To the extent I find what’s more true for me, and take it in and allow it to transform me, I find peace. It opens my heart and mind to find genuine gratitude for what happened. I see the genuine gifts in it.

It’s not enough to take this on as a philosophy. It may be a good start, and the transformation happens when we sincerely and honest look at it and find what’s more true for us, and keep exploring it.

We may find this over time if we have some receptivity and get tired of the struggle and suffering. We can find it with the help of pointers from others – whether from their own life or words. And we can find it through a more intentional and systematic exploration, for instance, guided by structured inquiry.


I have moments where I experience frustration and some distress around these losses, but it’s not so often. More and more, I get – in a felt sense – what I write about here.

I didn’t lose anything because I never owned them in the first place.

And I know that insight and reorientation is also not mine. It too is a visitor. I am visiting it right now.


I thought I would say a few words about the context.

Why can’t I truly own anything?

Ultimately, it’s because there is no “I” here to own anything.

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as, I find that what I am cannot “own” anything. It all lives its own life. There is no ultimate “I” here to own anything.

Also, what brings anything into or out of my life is life itself. It has innumerable causes going back to the beginning of this universe and out to the widest extent of this universe.

Does this mean I don’t need to take care of what I have?

Not at all. If anything, recognizing we can’t ultimately own anything can help us be a better steward of our life and what’s temporary in our life. It highlights how precious it is because it won’t stay.

What are some of the gifts in this?

It’s specific to each loss. The loss of my health – and the fatigue and brain fog – has brought me back to the essentials. I have had to deepen into all the things I write about in these articles. It has simplified things. It has shifted my orientation from finding it cool and fascinating to having to deepen into it out of necessity. I have had to take it more seriously.

How does this look in the wider world?

The idea of ownership is a convention. It’s something we collectively agree on. And that means it can and will change. For instance, is it wise to allow individuals to accumulate resources from the commons far beyond what they need and could ever use? If we recognize that all resources are from nature and belong to the commons, how does this change how we regulate ownership?

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It will all be gone

All will be gone. This human self. Everyone I know. Everyone who knew me. This culture. Humanity. This planet. This solar system. This universe. Given enough time, it will all be gone.

It can seem tragic. And we may have to grieve taking it in. But it also opens up for a lot. Here is what I notice for myself.

It opens for an immense gratitude for life itself. That this all exists. This amazing universe. This beautiful and complex living planet. Humanity. Civilization. Culture.

It opens for an immense gratitude for what I have. For my experiences as they are in all its richness. For breath. Friends. Family. Nature. Daily life.

I realize even more deeply that I cannot take any of this for granted. Nothing needed to exist at all. None of this needed exist. That any exists at all is a miracle. And that this exists is a miracle.

It helps me let go. When I experience discomfort and distress, it helps me see that this and all will go, and it reminds me of the magic of this existence. If something feels right to me, and a part of me worry what others will think or say, it helps to remember that we will all be gone and everything will be gone.

It helps me appreciate the little things. Even the smallest things in daily life is a miracle. This is only here for a brief moment and will be gone along with everything else.

It helps me notice and allow what’s here in my experience, as it is. It’s amazing it’s here at all. It and everything else will be gone. Its presence is pure magic. So who am I to say it shouldn’t be here?

And if I forget all of this, as I do, that’s OK too. That too is part of this amazing, fleeting, and magical existence.

Data: I want to live, however briefly, knowing that my life is finite

I want to live, however briefly, knowing that my life is finite. Mortality gives meaning to human life, Captain. Peace, love, friendship – these are precious because we know they cannot endure.

– Data to Picard in the final episode of season 1 of Star Trek:Picard

I always enjoy these glimmers of real wisdom in mainstream culture.

In a conventional sense, it’s helpful to take in that our life is finite. It can help us face – and bring presence into – any fears we have around it and find more peace with it. It can help us appreciate our life more. It can help us find genuine appreciation for what’s here and now, even if some of it may not be exactly as we wish. It can help us reprioritize and find what’s really important to us. And it can help us reorient and allow more time for what’s important to us.

A simple exercise here is to visualize our death as vividly as we can. Take it in. Ask ourselves how I would have liked to live differently. And then see how our live can be different now in this new context.

We can also explore our finite life in immediacy. Any ideas of past, future, and present are ideas. What’s here and now is all we have. And it’s always fresh and new. Not only is no moment alike any other moment. There is just this ONE moment. This always changing timeless presence.

My life is finite in that it’s just this timeless presence. And that timeless presence is infinitely rich. It includes everything I have ever experienced and everything I will ever experience. It also includes any images and thoughts I have about past, future, and present – and any images and thoughts about anything.

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Ariana Grande: thank u, next

I know they say I move on too fast
But this one gon’ last
‘Cause her name is Ari
And I’m so good with that (so good with that)
She taught me love (love)
She taught me patience (patience)
How she handles pain (pain)
That shit’s amazing (yeah, she’s amazing)
I’ve loved and I’ve lost (yeah, yeah)
But that’s not what I see (yeah, yeah)
‘Cause look what I’ve found (yeah, yeah)

There isn’t too much to say about this song because it’s all there in the lyrics.

It’s about gratitude, impermanence, and self-love. 

Everything passes – all our relationships to anything in the world, to people, things, situations. And all we can do is learn from it and say thank u, next. 

Except, one relationship doesn’t pass and that’s to myself. I can find a good relationship to myself. I can treat myself as I would want to be treated by someone important in my life. I can treat myself – and anything coming up in me, all my experiences – with love, kindness, respect, as a good friend or lover. 

It’s an important pointer. In some ways, it’s the secret to life. And it’s beautiful to see it in pop culture, and especially when aimed at younger women as I assume this one is. Although the pointer is equally valid and essential independent of our gender or age. 

This song is completely aligned with the insights we find through The Work. I won’t be surprised if this will be a regular song at future Schools. 

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Loss and its many gifts

You will lose everything. 
Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memory. 
Your looks will go.
Loved ones will die. 
Your own body will eventually fall apart. 
Everything that seems permanent is absolutely impermanent and will be smashed. 
Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. 
Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away. 
Right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground. 
For that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. 
Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. 
This may sound obvious but really knowing it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. 
Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude.

Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.

Jeff Foster

Loss is a gift in so many ways. 

It’s what allows this universe and anything to exist in the first place. This universe, living planet, and us and all we know is here because the universe is always in transition and changing. What was before is gone so what’s here now can be here. 

Loss – in the form of change – is how life (the universe, existence, the divine) continues to express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways. 

When we take in the reality of loss, we find that what’s here is infinitely precious. It’s a gift. It won’t ever come back in this way. It’s a unique and precious gift. Even that which our personality and mind doesn’t like very much is an infinitely precious gift. It’s how the universe (life, the divine) presents itself to itself here and now.

When we sober up to the reality of loss and change, it’s easier to live with loss. We won’t fight it as much or perhaps not at all. We may even find genuine gratitude for it. It will still break our hearts. It breaks our heart open. 

Sobering up to loss is an invitation to notice what everything happens within and as. And to notice that’s what we are. 

So loss is what allows everything we know. It’s essential to the play of life – Lila. Sobering up to it allows a profound appreciation for what’s here. It makes it easier to live with. It breaks our heart wide open. And it’s an invitation to find ourselves as what we already are – that which all content experience happens within and as. (That which we may label consciousness, or love, or even the divine.) 

Jeff Foster: All that can be lost, will be lost

All that can be lost, will be lost.
– Jeff Foster

I like how Jeff Foster makes impermanence immediate and personal here.

On the surface, this may seem discouraging. All that can be lost will be.

And yet, there is a question that may come up for us. If what can be lost will be, is there something that can’t be lost? This is a pointer to what we are: that which all experience happens within and as. That which cannot be lost because it’s not (only) content of experience and because it’s what reality is and what we are.

So we will lose anything within content of experience whether it’s a phase of life, health, friends, family, loved ones, pets, jobs, status, roles, identities, states, and so on. Some will be lost within this life, and all will be lost when we die. Some of these losses will seem like a relief to us, some will be mostly neutral, and some will appear as a tragedy – depending on what stories we have about it, how much is invested in these stories, and how much we have examined the stories. And all of it is a very human experience. All of it is part of being human.

And yet, it all happens as what we are. If we don’t notice it, the losses may hit us hard. And to the extent we do notice it, there is a space holding it all which takes a bit of the edge off it. Our reaction to the loss may not change that much because it’s created by conditioning and unexamined beliefs in us, but it happens in a different context and that makes a good deal of difference. We may notice this context in immediacy, or – sometimes – it’s just a memory or a knowing. In either case, the new context changes how it’s perceived. It makes it easier to be present with it, allow it, notice it. To hold it more lightly. To relate to it with patience, kindness, and perhaps even appreciation.

When in a funk, careful about drawing big conclusions

A funk or any strong emotional state tends to color our experience of everything. And that goes for our thoughts as well. Our thoughts tend to reflect whatever emotional state we are in. It’s as if our mind wants to be helpful, so it creates or brings up thoughts aligned with the emotional state.

It’s good to notice this pattern.

I notice I am in a funk or an emotional state. I notice my mind creating certain stories that goes with that funk or emotion. And I notice that as the funk or emotional state passes, as it does, then those thoughts pass as well. They were linked to the emotional state. They were not as true as they seemed when they were supported by the emotional state.

As I notice this pattern over time, a part of me also recognizes and knows what’s happening and not to believe those thoughts. A part of me knows they are fueled by the funk or the emotions, and as the funk or emotions pass, the thoughts will not seem as true or real.

And that helps me avoid fueling the thoughts further, draw big conclusions (about life, others myself, situations) based on them, and especially to act on those conclusions.

This is kindness towards myself.

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Chögyam Trungpa: We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem


We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.

– Chögyam Trungpa quoted by Pema Chödron in The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

I like the when or if way of talking about these things. If I can do this, then this other thing tends to happen.

How can I relax with transitions? I can rest with what comes up in me when I am in a transition, as I always am. I can examine my fears. I can identify what it says about me, and examine that identity. I can look at compulsions for it to be a certain way, or be different from how it is. I can meet the fear it brings up in me with gentleness, rest, and kindness.

Staking a claim

We often stake a claim. It can be on a person, a job, a place, a house, money, our own body, health, insights, skills, or anything else.

When we do this, it’s often to create a sense of safety and predictability.

And yet, it all goes. We know that. It’s the nature of anything created to change and be uncreated. Whatever it is, it’s ultimately not in our control.

To the extent we stake a claim, we suffer when it goes away. And to the extent we recognize it as a temporary gift, we appreciate the adventure of experiences – including of people, things, situations, states – that come and go.

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Becoming water

Towards the end of a Living Inquiry session this morning, I have the image of becoming water in a creek. I flow as a creek. Nothing is fixed.

It brings up fear and disorientation in me, and I notice how my mind tries to make something me and fixed. My fear is that I won’t know who I am if I can’t find the me that’s fixed. My mind wants to hold onto words and images of myself as fixed.

In reality, we are like water in a creek. Life is water in a creek. Nothing is fixed. We learn, at some point, to try to pretend we are something fixed. And then, some of us try to see through this learning.

Sogyal Rinpoche: If everything dies and changes, then what is really true?

The fear that impermanence awakens in us, that nothing is real and nothing lasts, is, we come to discover, our greatest friend because it drives us to ask: If everything dies and changes, then what is really true? Is there something behind the appearances? Is there something in fact we can depend on, that does survive what we call death?

Allowing these questions to occupy us urgently, we slowly find ourselves making a profound shift in the way we view everything. We come to uncover in ourselves “something” that we begin to realize lies behind all the changes and deaths of the world.

As this happens, we catch glowing glimpses of the vast implications behind the truth of impermanence. We come to uncover a depth of peace, joy, and confidence in ourselves that fills us with wonder, and gradually breeds in us a certainty that there is in us “something” that nothing destroys, that nothing alters, and that cannot die.

– Sogyal Rinpoche

And that “something” is not really a thing. It’s what all experiences happens within and as. And that too is just a thought, an idea, an image.

Dream: Death sentence

A friend of mine from the Zen center is in prison and is given a death sentence. I and others of his friends read through the documents but don’t understand it all at first glance.

When I woke up following this dream, I took the opportunity to be with the experiences that came up, including a slight sense of dread. Allowing the experience gave a sense of softness around it and a sense of sweetness mixed in with the initial emotions. It then opened up and the experience shifted into a sense of a nurturing fullness, mixed in with some sadness and a sense of being sobered up.

After a few minutes, I explored how this is true for me. How am I already in a prison? In what way am I given a death sentence?

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Memento mori


All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
Susan Sontag

I came across this quote earlier today at a exhibit of Binh Danh‘s beautiful photos.

A photography is always about the past, something that is already gone. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of any situation, experience and life. This situation, experience and life will be gone too, and so will eventually all of humanity.

In the same way, I find that thoughts are always about the past. They are either obviously about the past, apparently about the present – yet really about something that is already gone, or apparently about the future – but always projections based on the past. All thoughts are memento mori as well.

I can explore this through stories, reflect on how ephemeral my experiences and life is, find a new sense of urgency and appreciation that way, and a help in reorganizing my priorities in life.

And I can explore the ephemeral nature of everything in immediacy, as it happens here now. I can expore it through the sense fields, one field at a time. When I bring attention to the sounds, what do I find? Do any sound hang around? If a sound seems to last for a while, does it really? Can I notice how stories about past, current and possible future sounds create a sense of continuity? Can I find continuity outside of those stories? Can I notice how a story tells me a sound is similar to or the same as a previous sound? Is it really the same?

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I keep coming back to death practice.

For instance, I can visualize my own death – in as much detail and as vividly as possible, and take time for it to sink in and notice what happens.

What if I knew for certain that I would die in one year? One month? One week? One day? One hour? One minute? One second? What happens? What would I like to use that time for? What is important? What happens to my identifications with this body and this human self?

I can visualize my body as already dead. With the flesh rotting and falling off the bones. The skeleton itself disintegrating.

I also sometimes go to graveyards and visualize the disintegrating bodies underground, and my own body as if already there disintegrating.

And I can remember people and animals in my life who are now dead. I will be dead like them before I know it. My days are numbered, even if I don’t know the number. Everybody I know will be dead in just a few decades. All of humanity will eventually be dead and gone.

These types of practices can have many effects.

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Gifts of impermanence

The obvious gift of impermanence is that it keeps everything new, fresh and different. (When filtered through an overlay of stories of time.) Life and experience never repeats itself. Even when a story tells me something is the same as something else, it is fresh and different. Even the same story is always fresh and new as it happens here now.

In terms of evolution, impermanence is also very helpful, so helpful it is essential. It allows for this universe and life to evolve. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for impermanence and everything that happened before us. And in terms of human evolution it is that which allows for new and fresh perspectives for each generation.

Impermanence is also an invitation to grow and wake up. It helps us notice when we attach to a story as true, making it into a should that inevitably clashes with (our stories) of what is. And in this friction is an invitation to examine those beliefs and identifications. Are they true? Can I know they are true? Are they helpful? What happens when I hold onto them? (And they clash with what is, was or may be.) Who would I be without these beliefs? What are the grain of truth in their reversals?

Living a lie is painful, this pain is an invitation to find what is more true for us, and when this is lived, there is clarity and kindness.

And even simpler, impermanence is what allows all content of experience to come and go, living its own life, on its own schedule. Am I that which comes and goes? Something does not come and go. What is that? What is it that does not come and go?

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My [anything]?

In a conventional way – and at the thought level – it is pretty obvious that none of us own anything. We don’t own this body. We don’t own these thoughts. We don’t own these emotions. We don’t own these insights. We don’t own delusion or awakening. We don’t own any thing. It all comes and goes as guests.

Yet, there is a lot more to explore here. 

For instance, what is this “I” that something appears to belong to? 

When I explore it for myself, I find a sense of an “I” here – created by images and sensations. There is an image of myself as a human being owning (or not) something. And there is an image of a doer associated with certain sensations in the head/neck area. 

And also, I find that what I am is that which all of this happens within and as. That is the “I” without an “other”, so not really any “I” at all. 

Also, how does it feel to stay with this realization. What happens when the body “gets” it?

As always, this inquiry is for myself and for my own sake. And whatever I find can easily coexist with the conventional ways of looking at ownership – although they tend to come up as needed, for a specific situation, and held lightly.

Shift in flavor

I keep noticing how the flavor of experience is always fresh.

It is fresh because its content is always different. (Even when a thought – comparing an image of what is here now and what was in the past – tells me the two are, for all practical purposes, the same.)

And it is fresh because it is awakeness itself.

I noticed this when I just looked through a series of photos from last winter. Many are very similar to each other, but even small changes in cropping makes a big difference in experience. I quite literally experience myself and the world differently. (Which I do whenever anything in any field changes, even slightly.) And it is also fresh since it is awareness itself.

The photo is from the woods down the street from where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there with friends, family and on my own.

Is it gone?

It is good to fully allow whatever comes up when we lose something important to us, whether a person, situation, dream or something else. I can allow and be with the experience of it, with compassion and kindness for myself. I can inquire into some stories or beliefs I have around it. I can explore impermanence through stories (everything/one I know will be gone), and also immediately through the sense fields.

But it is also interesting to explore it in a different way. Is it really lost?

When I explore this for myself, I recognize elements of what was lost in others, nature, music and myself. The characteristics and dynamics of it pops up if I look for it. If I am receptive, I may find it everywhere, including right here in myself. In that sense, it is not really lost.

This happens within form, and at the level of my human self – as who I am.

I can also notice what I am – that which experience happens within and as. And here, I see what that person or situation or dream really was in everything.

So situations, people and dreams do go away, in a certain sense, and it is good to acknowledge that and our response to it. That situation or person is gone forever, and there is a stark finality to it. At the same time, is it really lost? Within content of experience, I find elements of that which was lost everywhere – if I am receptive to it – including right here in myself. And when I notice what I am, I see what that person or situation really was in everything.

As usual, this is something that is less than helpful if it becomes a belief. (It can be just another way to deny our human experience.) But it can be quite helpful if we explore it for ourselves.

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Facing death, and growing & waking up

Facing death squarely can have a few different effects…

In terms of growing up (healing/maturing as who I am, this human self in the world), facing death invites in a motivation to grow up. I have limited time here, and want to make the most of it. Similarly, facing death helps me clarify my priorities. I am invited to clarify what is most important for me, and align my life with that.

Facing death at this level happens mostly within the dynamics of stories. I realize that everyone and everything I love and know, incluing myself, will die. I see it. Feel into it. Find genuine appreciation for it. (After all, death at all levels of the holarchy of the universe is what makes life possible. We are made up of stars that died a few billion years ago. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the whole process of life and death that went before us, at the levels of stars, species and individuals. Also, life is dynamic, dynamic=flux, flux=death.) Make it alive for myself. Allow it to work on me and reorganize me as who I am.

In terms of waking up (noticing what I am), facing death may invite in a motivation to wake up. This human self is around for only a limited time, and I want to make use of this opportunity to invite what I am to wake up to itself.

Equally important, I can explore death – or rather, impermanence – here and now, through the sense fields. I can notice how anything happening within each sense field is flux, guests living their own life, coming and going on their own schedule. There are no stable anchors within content of awareness that I can place an “I” on. But still, there is a sense of what I really am not coming and going. What is it that is not coming and going?

Working with death

Working with death is like working with anything else.

I can visualize my own death sometime in the future and see what comes up. What if I knew I would die in one year, a half year, one month, one week, one day, one hour, one minute, one second? If I make it as vivid and real as possible for myself, what comes up?

I can notice beliefs and stories coming up an take them to inquire later on. I can fully allow and be with emotions, as they are, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way.

I can allow myself to reorganize within this new context of knowing that my death is imminent. How would I live my life differently? What becomes more important? Less important? How can I bring that into my life here and now?

I can do the same with the death of those close to me. I can bring up the memories of people in my life who have died. I can visualize those alive dying in the future.

I can do the same with human civilization, the earth and this universe. I can visualize it all being gone, which it will be – first when my human self dies, and then when it dies.

In all of these cases – visualizing my own death, the death of those close to me, and the death of everything I know and appreciate – I can work with what comes up in the same way. I can notice beliefs coming up and take them to inquiry. I can fully allow and be with emotions in a heartfelt and kind way. I can allow my human self to reorganize within this new context, seeing how priorities and motivations change, and see how I can bring it into daily life.

Daily life offers other opportunities to work with this, such as when death is a theme in the news and movies.

These are all ways of working with death and impermanence within stories.

But there are also ways of working with impermanence outside of stories.

The simplest I have found is to explore impermanence within the sense fields. I bring attention to the sense fields, one at a time, and notice the impermanence there. Each sense fields is flux.

The appearance of permanence is only a mental field overlay of a story of permanence, whether it is an image or discursive thought, or a mental field memory/mimicking of sense fields such as touch or taste.

Bamyan Buddhas

Giant Buddhas - Christian Frei

I watched The Giant Buddhas earlier today, a documentary about the Bamyan Buddhas shown as part of our local/international archaeological film festival.

It is a very well made movie, weaving together several different stories and perspectives: A Chinese monk traveling along the Silk Road around year 630. A woman from Kabul visiting the Buddhas that her father has visited in his youth. A family living in a cave between the Buddhas, and then relocated by the current regime. A French archaeologist searching for the location of a 300 meter long reclining stone Buddha in the same valley. An Al-Jazeera reporter who filmed the destruction in 2001.

Some of the information is not so well known in the west, such as the claim that Saudi Arabian engineers were called in and helped with the destruction. And that the destruction of the statues was ordered in response to western money coming in to restore artifacts, instead of as much needed aid to the people of Afghanistan. (It may be just a way to blame the west for something people in the west were upset about, but there could also be a grain of truth in it.)

When I first heard about the destruction in March of 2001, I thought of how well it illustrates the essential teaching of Buddhism – impermanence.

If we really get impermanence, if we see it and feel it, over and over, not only in stories of impermanence but as it happens here now in immediate awareness, there is no foothold for identification within content of awareness. And this invites a shift into Big Mind, into finding ourselves as that which experience happens within, to and as.

Exploring impermanence, thoroughly, over and over, as it happens in the sense fields here now, is one of the many ways to discover what we really are, and probably a sufficient one as well.

Also, it is an invitation for me – and us all – to see what stories we cling to as true, and examine them and find that is already more true for us.

It is a reminder that iconoclasm is maybe not so useful when targeted at artifacts, but has more value and meaning if we target the real icon worship: Taking stories as true. Making a thought – a story, an image – into a God for ourself.

And a reminder that we all are at different places in regards to all of this. Some of us take a modern western view on it, emphasizing the value of culture, art and tolerance. Others take a more fundamentalist view, seeing literal iconoclasm as a pretty good idea. And others again see it as a reminder of impermanence, and of iconoclasm having its value if targeted with some wisdom and applied with gentleness.

And if we want to be practical about it, we see the validity in each of those views, work on ourselves with impermanence and investigation of beliefs, and in the world in trying to prevent these things from happening using whatever – hopefully skillful – means seem appropriate.

Btw: Here is a link to the German version of the movie, although it is also available in English.

Identification with stories

A slightly different take on attachments…

Attachment to anything – situations, people, things, roles – is what causes suffering. Our stories about what should be and what is clash. Which is fine. It is just part of the human condition. But after a while, and if we act from kindness towards ourselves, we may want to explore this further. What is really going on? Is there another way?

One of the first things we may notice is that any attachment is really an attachment to a story. The story of I with an Other, and then all the other stories that flesh out the identity of this separate I.

I am an object in the world, so want what supports this object and do not want what does not support it. I am alive, so don’t want to be dead. I believe in fairness, so want to see fairness in how I and others are treated.

We may also notice that an attachment to a story is really an identification with this story. We have a story of an I with an Other, and take ourselves to be this separate I. We have a story of being a particular gender, age, of a particular ethnicity, having certain values, and take ourselves to be all of that.

Another thing we may notice is that it is all completely innocent. We are all dealing with this life as best as we can, and often from lack of clarity.

And then, that behind all of it is fear. Fear for what may happen to this human self. We attach to stories to deal with this fear, and try to avoid what we are afraid may happen to it.

And that behind this fear is love. A love for this human self and whatever is within its circle of concern. All attachments to stories come from love. From wanting the best for what we take as I and us.

So how do we explore attachments, or identifications with stories?

A simple and direct way is to investigate the beliefs themselves, and find what is already more true for us. I can use a sense of discomfort as a guide to discover when my stories of what is and should be clash, and then investigate one or both of these. Is it true? What happens when I believe that thought? Who would I be without it? What is the truth in its turnarounds?

Another is to investigate impermanence in the five sense fields, to see impermanence directly here and now. This helps us reorganize and find stories more aligned with this impermanence. And it also helps us see that no story is absolutely true, which invites a release of identification with these stories.

We can also include each of the three centers: head, heart and belly.

We can find ourselves as that which is already free from identification with stories, for instance through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and finding ourselves as what does not change in the midst of the constantly changing content of awareness.

We can invite our heart to open through various heart centered practices, or just a focus on the heart and its qualities.

And we can invite in a deep body sense of trust and nurturing fullness through various body and hara centered practices, such as Breema.

Each of these tends to invite in an opening in the two other centers, especially if we bring attention to it. An open heart invites in an open mind and a nurturing fullness. An open mind invites in an open heart and a felt-sense of trust. A body feeling of trust and nurturing fullness invites in an open heart and mind.

We may also discover that resisting experience tends to close each of the centers. That this happens only when there is an identification with this resistance.

And that fully allowing experience, independent of what it is, tends to invite in a receptivity and opening of each center. And that this is also an allowing of the resistance, which is a release of identification with it and the content of experience in general.

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Buddhism often talk about attachments to things in the world, and how this creates suffering.

But is that really what is going on? What is it an attachment really to? And what is an attachment?

When I explore this for myself, I find that what appears as an attachment to things in the world is something a little different.

Any attachment is to a story only. And this attachment is really an identification with a story.

The core story is that of an I with and Other, which is then fleshed out with other stories.

And I am identified with these, I take myself as these stories. I am this I with an Other, I am a living being, an object in the world, has a certain gender, age, from a specific ethnic background, has certain interests, skills, values, and so on.

I believe I am this human self, so am naturally attached to its well-being and aliveness. (Nothing wrong with that, although the added drama around it may be uncomfortable.) I believe people shouldn’t lie, so am attached to people speaking the truth. I believe a certain type of food will give me comfort, and that I need comfort, so appear attached to that food. I believe an intimate relationship will give me nurturing I cannot find any other way, and that I need that nurturing, so I am attached to having intimate relationships.

Our stories about what is and what should be often do not align, so attachments to stories create a sense of drama and discomfort. This is of course fine. But eventually, there may be an impulse to take a closer look at what is going on, and explore working with attachments.

One way of working with attachments is to explore impermanence.

Exploring impermanence has two effects. It invites in a disidentification with stories. And also a realignment of the stories we use in daily life, whether we are identified with them or not, to more closely reflect impermanence. In both cases, there is a release of attachment to having things a particular way. There is less of a war with what is, as Byron Katie says. (Although she uses a direct inquiry into the beliefs themselves, not this particular approach.)

We can explore it outside of stories, through directly see impermanence in the different sense fields. By getting familiar with impermanence in this way, we see that our stories are not true so there is a disidentification with them, and the stories we use realign as well. (This one is important for the disidentification part, less so for the realignment.)

We can also explore impermanence within stories, the impermanence of the universe, earth, humanity, civilizations, individuals, relationships and so on. This helps us realign our stories, and the larger perspective can also give a certain disidentification with stories. (This one is important for the realignment part, but maybe less effective for the disidentification.)

And we can investigate stories directly. We find a should which clashes with our stories of what is, and take it to inquiry. Is it true? What happens when I believe it? Who would I be without it? Can I find the truth in its turnarounds? This invites identification to be released out of the story.

A third way of releasing identification out of stories is to notice what we already are. We can use the sense fields to explore impermanence, see how all content of awareness comes and goes. But something does not come and go. What we really are does not seem to come and go. What is it? What is it that does not come and go? Or we can use the headless experiments to find ourselves as a no-thing full of whatever happens, or the Big Mind process to find ourselves as Big Mind.

There are of course lots of ways to explore attachments. These are just the ones I happen to be most familiar with right now.

So a quick summary:

  • Attachments to situations or things in the world creates drama and suffering, because everything is living its own life and is in flux. We get what we don’t want. We don’t get what we want. We don’t lose what we have but don’t want. We can’t hold onto what we want to keep.
  • This attachment is really an attachment to stories about what is and should be. And this attachment to stories is really an identification with them.
  • We can work with this in two ways. First, by realigning the stories we use, whether we are identified with them or not, with everything living its own life, on its own schedule, and being in flux. Then, by inviting identification to release out of these stories altogether. Realignment without disidentification only works up to a point since the world always will show up differently from our stories about it. There will be a certain amount of drama and discomfort left. Disidentification without realignment will release the drama out of it, but the stories our human self uses in its daily life will not be as closely aligned with the world as they can be. Both are important.
  • And there are several tools for working with attachments in these ways. One is The Work which directly addresses the beliefs, broadens the scope of stores we have available to us through the turnarounds, and invites in a release of identification with the stories. Another is exploring impermanence through the sense fields, which invites in a release of identification with stories, and some realignment of these stories. And we can also find ourselves as that which is already free from identification with stories, through headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or finding ourselves as that which does not come and go in the midst of all content of awareness coming and going.

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The two year dog

While in Norway, I watched a story on people adopting dogs for the two first years of their life. After that, they are trained and work as guide dogs for the blind. According to the people organizing the adoptions, it is less difficult than most think for those adopting the dogs to let them go, because they know they will only have them for two years, and also have had two years to prepare mentally for the separation.

A basic practice in most spiritual traditions is just this: to prepare mentally for the death of oneself and those close to us, to reorganize our worldview in general to align with the impermanence of everything in the world of form, and also see impermanence directly here and now outside of any thoughts.

And this in turn is a part of the basic orientation of any genuine spiritual practice: to align our conscious view with reality, and see, feel and love reality as it is.

A simple way of reorganizing within the reality of death is to imagine the death of ourself or someone close to us in five years time, one year, six months, one month, a week, a day, an hour, a minute.

If I know for certain I will die in a week, what happens? How do I reorganize within that perspective? What becomes more important? Less important? How will I like to live my life? Can I be with the experiences that come up when I imagine that I will die in a week?

And there are also plenty of reminders in daily life to explore this…. The death of friends or relatives. Reports of deaths in the media. Stories on possible flu pandemics wiping out large portions of the world population, which we know will come at some point.

Our days are numbered for each of us, but we don’t know the number. We may think we know the number, through astrology, premonitions or a medical diagnosis, but that too is just a story. The reality of it is that I and anyone else can die any moment, and that I don’t know when it will be.

If I investigate the beliefs that comes up for me around this, what happens? If I fully allow whatever experiences comes up in me around this, what happens?

The second basic practice is to see impermanence directly here and now, outside of the realm of thought. To pay attention to sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, smells, thoughts… seeing how they come and go, living their own life, on their own schedule. The world of form as flux. Everything arising as new, different, fresh. Even a thought with the same content as a previous one, completely and utterly fresh, new, different, itself only.

All of this may lead to another basic practice: If the world of form is in flux, then who or what am I? When I look, what I am don’t seem to come and go, yet everything within the world of form comes and goes… What am I then?

Investigating impermanence in all of these ways… including inquiry into our beliefs around it, being with whatever experiences comes up in us around it, seeing impermanence directly here and now, and exploring what I am if the whole world of form is flux yet what I am does not seem to come and go… is in many ways the royal path to healing and wholeness as who we are, at our human level, and to noticing what we already and always are.

Come in order to leave

Byron Katie says that things come to pass, not to stay.

One way of understanding that is in the usual impermanence way, that the world of form is in flux. The world of form is flux. Things come and then pass. Whatever is within content of awareness is already gone as soon as we try to capture it. Whatever arises is always fresh, new, different. God does not repeat itself. (All of this, the whole appearance of flux and change, only arises within the realm of thoughts… memories, projections, ideas of continuity.)

Another way of understanding it is that things come in order to leave. Their reason for happening is to leave, so that we can see our attachments, our beliefs around it saying they should stay longer.

Expanding it a little, we can say that impermanence is an invitation for us to see each of our beliefs from many different angles. We get to see our beliefs that something should not happen even as it is. That things should go away even as they stay. That things should come even as they don’t. That things should stay even as they go away.

Impermanence is an invitation to notice and investigate those beliefs, revealing that which does not come and go, this awakeness that the world of form happens within, to and as.


As long as we take ourselves to be a portion of the content of awareness, there will be a sense of precariousness. Partly because of a sense of a separate I, which is then vulnerable to the whims of the larger world. And partly because there is identification with something inherently transient.

There is a belief in a story, which creates a sense of I and Other. And this sense of a separate I is anchored on particular perceptions, such as sensations. Both of these steps are precarious. They need to be maintained, bolstered, protected, supported, actively fueled. And all of this takes a good deal of energy and attention, even if we are not consciously aware of it happening.

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Death and what continues

A quick look at death and what continues…

First the obvious one: Our human self, with its personality and quirks, dies. It is gone forever. At most, some of its influences on others and society continues for a while, but then that is gone too.

And another one, which takes a bit of looking: What we are, this awakeness that all form unfolds within, to and as, is free from form, space & time. It is that which form, time and space unfolds within and as. It is always and already here, whether it notices itself or not (temporarily taking itself to be a portion of its own content). This one is not “personal”, it does not seem dependent on this human self. It is existence itself, temporarily functionally connected to a particular human self.

As Big Mind, that which goes beyond and embraces all polarities, it continues on independent of any individual self. Or rather, it continues to allow form to unfold within and as itself.

Finally, maybe the least obvious one: Our soul self. This alive presence. This one that is not quite personal and not quite impersonal. Not quite in time and not quite outside of time. Not quite located in space, and not quite outside of space. This too is content of awareness, so it is possible to either identify with it and make it into an “I”, or see and appreciate it as just content, similar to the human self. If something continues on an “individual” level, and if there is a vehicle for – for instance – rebirth, it seems that this could be it.

(And finding myself as awakeness, it doesn’t quite matter. Continuing or not are just two different flavors of awakeness itself, two flavors of experience.)