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Monday, 25 July 2011

It's all vanishing now - impermanence and mindfulness

Almost everything you experience today will be forgotten by the time you get up tomorrow morning. This, I hope you will agree, makes a compelling argument for  the practice of mindfuless. Almost all your experience belongs to the here and now - nowhere else. How many experiences did you have yesterday? Probably many thousands if you include everything that impinged on your consciousness. How many do you  remember? Probably no more than two or three. That concert you enjoyed so much - how long would it take you to run through the memories that remain of it? A few minutes?

We look at a person with dementia and think how tragic. The difference may be less than you think.

This phenomenon of the memory of experiences running away from us almost as soon as they have happened is one form of impermanence. Next time you are really enjoying an event or other experience, remind yourself that 'Almost all of this will vanish as soon as it is over' and encourage yourself to maintain mindfulness so as to get the most out of it.

Another form of impermanence that is central to the practice of mindfulness is the impermanence of emotions. Good emotions rise and fall and so do bad emotions or negative emotions. Mindfulness helps you to spot the good emotions when they come and to enjoy them. But when they are replaced by negative emotions you know that these also will fade - no need for a big drama about it, no need to fret because good emotions pass or negative emotions come. This mindful approach, of accepting and noticing the rise and fall of emotions, can spare you a great deal of upset.

But impermanence is inherent in our very existence and in all we do. Empires, great cities, great works of art, great philosophies, you and I, all are impermanent and are already changing sometimes obviously - as a glance in the mirror tells me - sometimes microscopically.

In the practice of mindfulness I become aware of this impermanence and I learn to accept it, appreciating ordinary experiences in a way that simply would not happen if I thought that everything around me on this earth was going to last forever.

(You might also like this piece on impermanence by Edmund O'Reilly from the Buddhist Geeks blog. The picture above is from the blog.)

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