how to see impermanence

the human mind has what's called change blindness.

—we don't see entire scenes and details, we only gather just enough basic information from any given situation to pursue whatever task is at hand (when we're asked for directions, we don't notice when the questioner is suddenly replaced, when an actor is replaced from one cut to another, when we count basketball bounces, we don't notice someone in a gorilla outfit, eye scans of images show we only look at a small fraction of any scene, just enough to gather info)

—once the mind gets a glimpse of something, it assumes that things will remain the same; it assumes stability

—david eagleman: "change blindness highlights the importance of attention. to see an object change, you must attend to it." unfortunately, the mind prefers to jump away, constantly looking for new information or


its because of the mind's is hardwired to fall into the "default mode network" (DMN) which is not about focusing on the present moment, but rather drifting into "self-referential" thoughts (various worries and plans).

—Unfortunately, this triggers stress (the DMN triggers the ventral temporal lobe, ie amygdala).


Believing in constancy causes suffering.

—we're constantly shocked when people or things fail to live up to our expectations (that were there all along but we didn't see)

—we cling to all sorts of habits and outlets and distractions in life as we've failed to notice that, in the long term they turn on us.

—we're shocked to wake up and discover our aging, our body's no longer agreeable, though the changes were there all along.


rather than bring us change blindness, spiritual practice is about developing "change mindfulness"


conditions that arise together fall apart: all experiences are the last of a kind; conditions are constantly in flux, both externally and internally:

—how our that bodies feel, the level of somatic tension, the level of energy in the mind, what thoughts we've been developing, how we've been focusing the mind

—what is present around us, the people, etc


adding a recognition of change "this is the last time" to every situation, we begin to perceive instability and to be at ease with it.

—the practice is referred to "awareness of impermanence"

—this awareness means overcoming our tendency to take things for granted, to believe we'll always have our health, time later on to find true happiness, friendships, etc

—we can, if we're comfortable, ramp it up to a sense of finality "the end of all i know, my safety, my health, might end here"


we have an entire set of ingrained behaviors that resist seeing change, seeing vulnerability, that cling to stability.

—even babies are born with the nature to cling/grasp for security and we feed to fill up the body and ease hunger

—as we grow older, the patterns develop further, we feed off of things to get rid of anxieties, we cling to things that bring the illusion of lasting security

—in our dominant culture we're sold a bill of goods, that certain investments or products or practices will bring us security (everything from gated communities to "risk free investments" to surefire careers)


the practice of 'letting go,' of our campaigns for false security in the form of praise, fame, gain, short term pleasures, etc, in and of itself can be very difficult, as it runs against our nature to accumulate for happiness

—when we try to let go unskillfully, we wind up letting go of one false promise for another: we might jettison our career in favor of writing a blog or starting a family, etc.

—at best our endeavors are only slightly less stressful, but the time and energy we expend wont develop lasting tranquility


the spiritual path is one of replacing unskillful feeding and clinging strategies that promise stability for a practice that allows us to "fall into change with grace"


the great stumbling blocks to seeing and being with impermanence is

1) self-views (sakkaya-ditthi) those stories about who we are, what we're capable of, what we we believe is an inevitable feature of our mind

2) the failure to connect the long term stress that is the inevitable result of short term strategies of avoidance (alcohol, careerism)


the start of mindfulness of impermanence is noticing the subtle shifts and changes that are occurring all the time in the body (breath, vedana) and mind (moods, energy level, aversion, thought), without getting hooked by thinking "i am this" or "this is true"

—we attain the stability to stand back and even drop our stories about who we are, where we're going, why our practice is best, etc.

—when we witness physical and mental events from the outside we can be with all forms of change, from disappointment to rejection and loss


at the same time we're developing a core of peaceful awareness that is the ground we'll stand on through change and loss

—the more comfortable the mind, the more it can stand aside and witness what normally would be too painful to bear

—peace is being with change while resisting feeding on the lure of external baits—relationships, careers, families, duties—each announcing they're more important than finding serenity within


for a long while life's experiences will be too course and rough for us to view with detachment:

—the mind will want to collapse around disappointments and fight them

—the mind will try to run away from disappointments, via denial

—the mind will try to turn disappointment into a story about "me," not seeing the universal quality of our experiences


the human realm involves emotional bruises, lost opportunities and rejections along with our physical decline with age.

—the lure of clinging and feeding to short term strategies is strong


again and again we return to the thought "how can I be with this while its occurring?"

we use our ability to relax the core of the breathing body, developing a peaceful core while refraining from adding the second arrows of resistance

we return again to the way each event manifests primarily in specific areas of the body, seeing thoughts and moods and feelings as energy

we think thoughts of "yes" or "welcome" to undercut the tendency to greet discomfort with aversion

we keep the mind permeating the body, so as not to fall into battling with one area

we cultivate thoughts of metta, caganusati, silanusati towards ourselves (even maranusati)


continuing with this practice, unresolved stories or haunting experiences may manifest themselves.

—we continue with our practice of greeting without aversion, keeping the core energy in the body peaceful,

—the greater our core peace, the more we can be with sadness and repressed memories

—we're ventilating the stories and memories, purifying the mind

* * *

one of the more extreme practices of being with impermanence is the death meditations of being with cadavers that have been cut open and left in a field for vultures to consume within minutes

—apparently within minutes the bodily form is reduced to bones, while the birds tug at muscles, flesh and organs

—its a stark practice, but what's left is a serene emptiness