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Waves of Impermanence
24m

Waves of Impermanence

Relax your inner control freak and let go more fully into the natural ebb and flow of life.

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Hello, and welcome to another edition of "Mindfulness+". I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for downloading us today. I feel I owe you an apology. I meant to send out an episode many months ago. But if you heard the end of Season 4, you'll know that I went and had a baby with my wife, and we've just been figuring it out ever since then. And initially, I wanted to get Season 5 up and running this spring, but better late than never. Here we are, Season 5, Episode 1. And I feel like I used to feel when I recorded "Mindfulness+" episodes, which is just a lot of excitement to share the content with you. If you're new to this show, just briefly, a little bit about me. I've been in this practice a little, almost 25 years, now. I stumbled across it as a teenage boy, lost in the world. And I was blown away at what a little mindfulness did for my emotional life, for my mental life, for my physical health, for my spiritual sense of vitality. So, here I am sharing the practice with you, and I'm grateful that I have the occasion to do so. For the last 10 years now, full-time, I've just been spreading the good word about this practice. I'll say a lot more about it this season. And if you haven't heard previous seasons, I recommend you go back to Number 1, Season 1. The basic format of the show is that I offer a little bit of a teaching, expound a little bit on it, but then just invite you to do the practice. It's very applied. It's not theoretical, conceptual, or if it is, it's in service of helping you do these techniques and pay attention in a new way that will help change your life for the better. That's been my experience with it. It's still holding up. We're still going strong. So, without further ado, I'd like to get into the content today. This is one of my favorite sutras in the Buddhist tradition. I'm working with the Prajnaparamita Sutra. That's a Sanskrit term, and it translates roughly as the sutra, the Scripture of Supreme Wisdom. The commentator, this is Lex Hixon in his "Mother of the Buddhas". He's really poetically expounding on this great work. And there's a paragraph in here, there are many paragraphs, I recommend the book. But there's a paragraph in here that has really been just resonating in my heart for years, now, and I thought this would be a worthy way to kick off a "Mindfulness+" season by sharing this with you, talking about it a little bit, and then doing it. That's the really important part, is to actually find ourselves on the inside of the experience that some of these great teachers are pointing us to. So, here we go. Lex Hixon writes, and it's a translation. It's a poetic expansion on the Prajnaparamita Sutra. He writes: Immature practitioners retain the instinctive notion that their own personal form, personal feeling, and personal consciousness possess some sort of recognizable and invariable set of characteristic marks. These persons are engaged in the false assumption that form, feeling, and consciousness have been substantially produced, and therefore, they remain anxious to control or transcend these processes. Okay, maybe I should have started with a little forewarning. First pass of this text, it can feel a little bit opaque. We're not used to thinking, talking, hearing English in this way. Don't worry, I'll break it down, I'll make it really simple. But I wanna give it to you again, and just relax here and take in what you can: Immature practitioners retain the instinctive notion that their own personal form, personal feeling, and personal consciousness possess some sort of recognizable and invariable set of characteristic marks. These persons are engaged in the false assumption that form, feeling, and consciousness have been substantially produced, and therefore, they remain anxious to control or transcend these processes. Okay, let me just take this one bite at a time with you. I wanna set you up so that you can understand this language a little bit more intuitively, and then we're just gonna move into a guided meditation that helps you really feel it from the inside. First, I wanna stop on one phrase, here. Hixon translates this as "Characteristic marks." If you have any background in Buddhism, don't worry if you don't, but if you have any background, you might recognize these to be the characteristic marks of existence, or what are sometimes called the Three Dharma Seals. This is impermanence, this is no self, and this is suffering. Maybe I'll spend some time in a future episode talking just about these marks of existence. They're really fundamental to the Buddhist worldview, and I personally believe they're useful to all human beings. At any rate, what Hixon is saying is that most of us, most of us human beings, we don't realize moment to moment the reality of these characteristic marks, namely, that reality is impermanent. It's changing all the time. And if reality is changing all the time, that means that whatever I take my self to be is also changing all the time. My self is not a thing like a fixed, solid object so much as my self is an endless process. And if I don't realize that life is impermanent and that my self is this ongoing, ever-changing process, I'm going to suffer. That's really what the sutra's talking about. That's what Hixon is translating here. He says immature practitioners have this sense that things are permanent, they have this sense that the self is this solid entity that's almost fixed in place and can't change, and therefore, anything in life, anything in the environment that asks the self to change, it's gonna feel like an imposition. It's gonna feel like an inconvenience, and I'm gonna struggle against it and I'm gonna suffer. That's it, that's really what the passage is saying. To call an image up to help you metaphorically resonate more with what this is pointing to, imagine your favorite beach on the planet. Go there. Do a little premeditation meditation. Visualize your favorite beach on the planet. Oh, this is nice. I could stay here a little longer. Maybe we'll extend the episode, get a little more beach time in. But there's a twist to this visualization. You're at your favorite beach on the planet. The weather, the temperature's perfect and the wind is just the right amount of cool and warm. It's gorgeous. You're in your happy place. And the surf is rolling in, just, the tide, it's flowing. It's ebbing. It's washing up on the shore. It's drawing back into the depths of the ocean. Everything's perfect. But the twist, here, imagine that you're at your favorite beach on the planet, but instead of feeling like you're in paradise, you actually are having a bit of an anxiety attack because you have this wrongheaded notion like the surf is coming in and you have to stop it somehow. You're pushing the river, as the phrase goes. You're trying to prevent the tide from lapping up on the shore. So, you're holding your arms out and you're trying to get it and push it back, keep it from lapping up. And of course, it's a fool's errand. You can't. But you're dying, trying to do it. You're totally anxious about trying to beat the tide back. And then the moment the tide finally reaches its high point, you get really anxious about the tide ebbing. You get really anxious, you're pulling on the water now. It wants to retreat, but you want it to stay. In other words, what was this image of perfection, your favorite beach in the world, your happy place, now you're just totally anxious about this rhythm of ebb and flow. When it ebbs, you want it to flow. When it flows, you want it to ebb. So, you're just stuck in this hellscape now trying to control everything that's happening. Let's go back to the passage. Maybe you hear it a little bit differently right now. If we engage in this false assumption like reality is permanent and it needs to be the way we want it to be, then we remain anxious to control all of these processes all the time. That's really the kicker. It doesn't take any special training in mindfulness or Buddhism to really understand these words. If we don't see that things are changing all the time, they're impermanent, we will remain anxious to control or transcend these processes. Which processes? The processes of nature. Life ebbs and flows, life expands and contracts. In one moment, we feel happy, and the happiness expands. And the next moment it contracts, and if we wanna keep feeling happy, we'll try to keep feeling happy even as the happiness is contracting, just like that scene on the beach where we're fighting the ebb and flow of the tide. We fight the ebb and flow of our emotions all the time. We fight the ebb and flow of our thinking minds all the time. We fight the ebb and flow of the events of life all the time. And this is what I love about this sutra. It's timeless and it's universal. It doesn't matter, in my opinion, as I see it. It doesn't matter what our worldview is. We can all understand our basic resistance to change as human beings. And in this particular sutra, this scripture in the Buddhist tradition, it's reminding us, like, hey, remember the marks of existence. Remember everything's changing. It's impermanent. Remember, you yourself, you are a process in constant change all the time. There's no end to your change, is what I mean to say. And if we recognize this, we quit pushing the river. We quit fighting the ebb and the flow of the tide. And notice right now, here we are, not visualizing the beach anymore, but we are the beach, we are the tide, we are the ebb and the flow. I want to invite you to practice in this spirit right now, to just relax into yourself and start to attune to your own natural ebb and flows. Emotions, thoughtforms, the conditions of life. Let's practice here. Wherever you are or whatever you're doing, I wanna invite you to just gather awareness in the physical body and in physical sensation. Just breathe. Soften. Give yourself a moment to land. Whether you're sitting still or in motion doesn't matter. There's a way in which we can touch into the still point of the turning world, whatever is happening in life right now. And remember these words that immature practitioners, we could say, immature, anxious, neurotic, unmindful human beings sleepwalking, we have this instinctive notion like the self is something solid, something to be defended at all costs. And because we feel like we're solid and we don't see the reality of impermanence, we're constantly anxious to control all the processes that are happening within us and all about us. But what does it feel like when we let go of that anxiety to control processes? Just breathe. Feel the breath just drop deep into the belly. And as we're practicing in this way, we're not feeling less. We're feeling more. We're not escaping from the conditions of life. We're escaping into the conditions of life, more fully inhabiting and embodying exactly what is right now. Feel the ebb and the flow of the breath. in breath, out breath, expansion, contraction. On a more subtle level, you can notice emotion. Just feel the emotional energy throughout the body, your mood in the moment. Emotional energy, like the breath of the body, also expands and contracts. Just notice the process, the activity of emotion right now, and practice just really joining with it, having an intention to let go of any anxiety to control this ebb and flow, this endlessly changing process. But how you feel in this moment is how you feel. The feelings that are arising are what are arising. There's nothing to defend, ultimately, nothing to control. Pushing and pulling on the emotions isn't any more fruitful than pushing and pulling on the ebb and flow of the tide of our favorite beach on the planet. But there's a way in which we can just give way to these natural rhythms, let them deeply inform us. What about the thinking mind? Notice the relative activity of the thinking mind in this moment, or its relative stillness, quiet. And this is where we tend to have a lot of preferences. If we think we're practicing mindfulness, if we think we're trying to meditate, we often think we need to struggle with the thinking mind. But what if the brain just secretes thoughts as naturally as blood flows through the veins, air through the lungs? What if thoughts themselves ebb and flow as naturally as the tide? We don't have to get involved in it. We don't have to struggle against it. It's just happening, this easy flow. As you practice in this way, as you pay attention in a new way, and change your relationship with moment-to-moment experience, you find, like the sutra points us to, you become less anxious about controlling every ebb and every flow. And you start to feel a quality the traditions called maitri, or a basic friendliness towards everything that's happening. It doesn't mean you do nothing in the world. It means you first stop struggling with yourself. Allow experience to fully inform you, and then, fully informed, you live your life. Feel this fundamental friendliness towards yourself, towards direct experience. Appreciate that there's a part of you much deeper than the thinking mind, much deeper than your personality structure or preferences that just knows how to join with its own natural rhythms, in fact, can't be separate from this rhythm. Whatever's expanding, contracting, ebbing, and flowing in this moment, it's all good. You learn how to yield, how to be open. Changing, changing. A mature practitioner knows this change, completely joins with this change, and then acts appropriately, shows up in whatever way the situation calls for. Thank you for your practice. Thank you, Lex Hixon, for your masterful translation. Thank you all Buddhists past, present, and future for the wisdom of this lineage. So, this is a little tour through the marks of existence through the practice of ebbing and flowing, catching ourselves the way we anxiously try to control the ever-changing processes of ourselves, of life, and realizing that there's a different way, if we choose it. That's it for Episode 1, Season 5. I'm happy to be back. I'm happy you're back. Thanks so much for being here, and there'll be more coming next week.

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