We all know that nothing lasts forever. But it’s funny how when something is enjoyable, we want it to last and last. But it seems so fleeting. And when something is not enjoyable, we want it to change now. But it seems to last so long. Impermanence is a teaching in Buddhism that I think we can really benefit from. This is from Wikipedia regarding impermanence:
Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”. All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.
That definition might sound a little gloomy, but it’s basically saying that the only constant in this life, is change. This can be a positive or negative thing, depending on our outlook. We can be like Eeyore and mope around saying, “enjoy it while it lasts…” But that’s not very fun. I’ve been that way before. Trust me. It’s not fun. Or, we can realize that yes, the good times don’t last forever, but neither do the tough times. I have found that the mindfulness practice (being where I am, on purpose) has helped in both extremes, and in the middle. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met and live in relatively good health, most of life is kind of in the middle. The extreme ups and downs are not the norm. With the practice of mindfulness, the “mundane” becomes a little more interesting. As I’m walking down the hall at work, being aware that I’m walking down the hall at work seems to add a little more life to it. I don’t know exactly how or why it works that way, but I just know it does. And as I practice this with life in the middle (the mundane times), it becomes a little easier to endure the extreme downs, and the extreme ups are that much more enjoyable.
Today, a friend of mine helped me to step back and see an experience that I had today as it really was. Mindfulness will help with this, too. I woke up this morning with intense feelings of depression and dread. I haven’t felt like that in a long time. In the middle of something like that, it seems like it lasts forever! But in reality, it was probably 5 minutes of really intense feelings, and probably not more than 20 minutes all together. By me realizing that, it kind of takes some of the power out of it the next time it comes around. Now, I’m not a morning person, and it hit me right away, so I was kind of taken off guard. My first thoughts were something like, “what the hell is going on?!?!?” I started fighting the feelings, which only made them stronger. As I woke up a little, I realized what I was doing and so I just let myself feel the uncomfortable feelings for a minute. Then I got curious about them. Is there a physical sensation in my body? Yes, my chest and back feel tight. And so forth. There is something about this kind of mindfulness that sort of dissipates those really intense moments. By the time I got myself together for work and out the door, I was fine.
What about the flip side? Let’s say that I’m having a really enjoyable time doing something that I love to do. In the middle of me being mindful and really enjoying this experience, I start thinking, “I wish I could be this happy all the time! But I know that this is only temporary. Wow. That kind of sucks.” That sounds like an extreme example, but for those who work M-F, think about the weekends. Friday is like, hell yeah! Saturday is a full day of fun. But on Sunday, many, many people start to dread Monday. I know, I was one of them. I wasn’t able to enjoy Sunday, even though I was doing enjoyable things, because I was already dreading Monday. I wasn’t where I was, on purpose, enjoying resting or friends or family. But now, most of the time, I can enjoy Sunday because I’m mindful of being in the present moment. One thing that helps me with this is focusing on where I am instead of not trying to think about tomorrow. Does that make sense? It’s a subtle shift, but it makes a lot of difference.
Life isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t always suck, either. I think that if we can comes to terms with the fact that change happens (sounds like go with the flow!), the ride through life can be a little more enjoyable.
PS – I wanted to throw this in as a thought I had after posting. I’m not making light of anyone suffering from depression or trying to break free of an addiction or anything like that. I know that it’s not as easy as, just be in the moment and all will be fine. I wish! These are tough things to be dealing with. If you haven’t been practicing things like mindfulness, it will probably take a little time before you start to see noticeable results. But from my experience, I do believe it’s worth the time and effort and practice. The Buddhist monk that I got to know a few years ago would always end his talks with, “practice, practice, practice”.