How we notice change

How do we notice change?

By comparing our mental images of what thoughts label “now” with our mental images of what thoughts label “past” whether it’s a recent or more distant past.

Without mental representations, there would be no idea of change, and no idea of past, future, and present.

HOW HAVE I EXPLORED THIS?

It was one of the things that was revealed when my nature initially recognized itself.

There have also been shifts in meditation where the mental functions that create and tie together ideas of now and past seemed to not function anymore, and there is only now. One time, I was listening to music, and it was not music anymore because nothing was able to tie the sounds happening now with the memory of sounds that just passed.

I have also explored it through different forms of inquiry, including The Work of Byron Katie and especially the Kiloby Inquiries (a modern variation of traditional Buddhist sense field inquiry).

WHY DO I WRITE ABOUT THIS NOW?

I saw a post from an awakening teacher saying that Buddhism sees realizing impermanence as a result of awakening. She then criticized that straw man argument for more or less the reason I outlined above.

That’s misguided since it’s a misrepresentation of Buddhism, and it’s easy to see it as unethical for the same reason. She didn’t do her homework, which would have taken long.

Buddhist teachings and teachers use impermanence to help our nature notice itself, it’s a teaching and inquiry tool. It makes use of how consciousness works when it doesn’t notice its nature, to help it notice its nature.

For instance, we may notice that everything within our field of experience changes. In basic meditation, that’s one of the things we notice over time. The question then is, if everything within the content of experience changes, can any of it be what I more fundamentally am? If the experience of this human self comes and goes, if the mental representation of a doer or observer comes and goes, can any of it be what I more fundamentally am? Can it be what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience? This is a visceral noticing and inquiry that deepens over time in basic meditation, perhaps even without being consciously noticed.

Image by me and Midjourney

Paul Bowles: Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.

– Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

In a conventional sense, everything in our life will happen only a certain number of times, and the number is often very small.

In a more real sense, what’s here is even more precious. What’s here now is the only that’s here, it’s all that is for us. Anything else exists as a thought, a dream, an image of the past or future.

Mary Oliver: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean – the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down – who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

What comes together falls apart

What comes together falls apart. That’s how this world is. That’s how existence is. It’s not wrong. It’s not a mistake. It’s what allows anything to be at all. It’s what creates space for something new.

Seeing this makes it all heartbreakingly beautiful. It helps me more fully appreciate what’s here. I can find gratitude for what’s here as it is, just because it’s part of life, it’s transient, it is something that came together and will fall apart. It’s only here now.

The photo is of Cañon del Chicamocha, taken two years ago. It’s a moment that will never come again – both the clouds and the view and my life as it was then. (Ale, Merlina, and I stayed at the house of friends in the neighborhood we are still in.) What’s here will never come again.

Adyashanti retiring

A few weeks ago, Adyashanti retired from in-person teaching.

Some talk about how devastated they were when they heard he was retiring, and I understand it can be a big loss if you had regular in-person contact with him through satsangs and retreats.

For me, it’s less of an impact, although I did feel surprisingly sad immediately after his last regular online talk.

What he has produced is still out there in writing, audio, and video, and the content is timeless for all practical purposes. It’s colored by our times and culture, but not so much that it will be outdated anytime soon.

He is retiring from in-person teaching. He didn’t say he is retiring from everything altogether. He may still write books and produce audio and video on specific topics.

Who knows what he will be moved to do in the future? Retiring in this way opens the space for something else, and what comes up may surprise us and even him.

Adya retiring is a reminder that all is change. Make the most of what’s here because it won’t be here forever. Enjoy it now.

Change and impermanence is how there is anything at all. Something goes away and opens space for something else. That’s how anything exists at all. It’s how we are here.

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How we notice change and impermanence: Comparing images

It’s tempting to say that we can notice two types of change and that we notice it in two different ways.

IMMEDIACY AND STORIES

We can notice change and impermanence in immediacy. What’s here now is fresh and different from what just passed.

And we can notice change and impermanence in stories. I have a mental representation of a timeline and how things are different at different points in that timeline.

When I look more closely at what’s happening, I find that those two are not that different. They are essentially the same.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING WITHIN MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

Even when I notice change in immediacy, I do it by comparing images of what’s here and now with what just passed. (The images of “here and now” is also, in reality, about what just passed.)

So how do I notice change and impermanence? My mind creates a timeline and compares two or more points on that timeline, even when one of those points is what thoughts call “here and now”.

HELPS ME SEE IT (MORE) FOR WHAT IT IS

Is this useful to notice? I don’t know. But I do find it fascinating to notice as it happens.

It helps me recognize that my mental representations of time, a timeline, points on a timeline, and even the ideas of change, all happen as and within my mental representations. It’s an overlay over the world as the world appears to me.

The image – a polyptychis with different scenes – is created by me and Midjourney.

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Anything we can name is not what we (most fundamentally) are

I am watching Your Name which is about a teenage boy and girl who find themselves occasionally swapping bodies and life.

There is a lot to learn from imagining ourselves in someone else’s body and life. And although we cannot switch like this in real life, it does also point to our more fundamental nature.

THE ESSENCE: AS CONSCIOUSNESS, WE CAN TAKE ON ANY IDENTITY

To ourselves, we are consciousness. And as consciousness, we can take on any identity. We can take on the viewpoint of any story. And in daily life, we usually take on identities that happen to fit (more or less) our physical body and the life of this physical body in the world. If we had another body, we can take on the identities that fit that particular body and life.

To me, that’s the essence of the body/life-swapping part of the movie. We can imagine having a different body and a different life. And that’s because we are not, most fundamentally, our body. We are not, most fundamentally, any particular content of experience. We are consciousness, and as consciousness we can play with and take on any identities and viewpoints.

WHAT I MORE FUNDAMENTALLY AM

It’s not wrong that we are this particular human self in the world. It’s an assumption that works reasonably well in daily life. (Although it comes with some inherent stress.)

But is it what I most fundamentally am? What do I find when I explore my own first-person experience?

I find that I more fundamentally am something else.

I am more fundamentally capacity for all of these experiences. I am what this field of experience happens within and as.

A thought can call this consciousness. As consciousness, I am capacity for any and all content of experience. I am what forms itself into any experience that’s here. I am what forms itself into this experience of a human self and the wider world. I am what can take on any identity and any view.

THE CLUES ARE EVERYWHERE

When we discover this for ourselves, and as we get more used to finding ourselves as that, we also get to see that the clues are everywhere. What we are is always here. And the clues and pointers are also always here.

As suggested above, Your Name is also a pointer. If it’s so easy to imagine swapping bodies and taking on a whole new life and set of identities, what does it say about our more fundamental nature?

WE ALREADY SWAP BODIES

In a sense, we always swap bodies.

When I see you, you are happening within and as what I am. In my experience, what I am forms itself into you.

And who you see me as is not really here to me. I cannot see my own face or head. My name is a memory I have to access in order to tell you.

And I assume it’s the same for you.

When we meet, we swap bodies. To me, you happen within and as what I am. To you, I happen within and as what you are.

POINTERS AND FINDING FOR OURSELVES

This may make sense logically.

And that’s just another pointer. The invitation is always to find this for ourselves.

Fortunately, there are some effective pointers so we can explore and find this for ourselves. (For instance, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.)

And fortunately, this exploration doesn’t require any spirituality, religion, belief, or anything else. It just requires some guidance, curiosity, and sincerity. And it does require some diligence to keep noticing and to explore how to live from (and as) this noticing.

ANYTHING WE CAN NAME?

Why did I say “anything we can name is not what we fundamentally are”?

It’s because the function of words is to differentiate, and what we are is what anything differentiated happens within and as. Words can, at best, point us to notice what we are. But they can never capture what we are.

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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.

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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.

REMEMBERING IMPERMANENCE

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.

THE GREAT CLEANSER

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.

HAPPENING HERE AND NOW

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)

POINTING TO MY NATURE

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.

Notes

(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.

A NATURAL PROCESS OF RECOGNIZING OUR NATURE

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.

AWAKENING COMES FROM AND IS A KIND OF MATURITY

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.

AWAKENING AND MATURITY IN GENERAL

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.

TRYING AND FAILING

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.

NOTICE IT’S ALREADY NOTICED AND ALLOWED

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.

A FEW MORE THINGS WE MAY NOTICE

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.

IF ALL IS THE DIVINE

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.

THE WILDLY RECKLESS SIDE OF THE DIVINE I

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.

THE WILDLY RECKLESS SIDE OF THE DIVINE II

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.

THE FULLNESS OF IT ALL

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.

BRINGING IT HOME

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.

THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES

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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Regeneration: putting energy into something that’s temporary

I am about to embark on a relatively large and long-term regeneration 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.

HAPPENS IN TWO WAYS

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.

GIFTS IN A CONVENTIONAL SENSE

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?

GIFTS FROM MORE IMMEDIATE NOTICING

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.

THE GIFTS OF IMPERMANENCE

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.

OUR HUMAN SELF

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.

WHAT WE ARE

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.

CHANGE HELPS US NOTICE 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.

APPRECIATE WHAT’S HERE

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.

HOW WE CAN FIND THIS FOR OURSELVES

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.

THEY WERE NEVER MINE

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.

SINCERE EXPLORATION

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.

IN MY LIFE

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.

THE CONTEXT

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

Trunpga

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

binh-danh-dag-1

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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Death

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.