Impermanence and no self
A Contemplation about impermanence - how can we understand we are whole and also not a separate self? What is the purpose of a separate self and what is wholeness?
If we begin with, (permanence) I will be the same thing in the future vs (impermanence) I am not the same as I was when I woke up this morning. This sets us on a path of curiosity and acceptance. Our cells, mental forms, thoughts, feelings, opinions, or even when we were 8 years old to now, from moment to moment, how we continue to change becomes more relatable. This understanding helps us to suffer much less with the stress of the what-ifs of change, our impermanence, life's impermanence. Not only knowing our self as we won’t be the same in 3 years or 3 years ago, also everything - the leaves, an autumn leaf made up of the whole cosmos - its ancestors, the air, sunshine, the rain, the earth - we can say, I also am like that, I inter-am. I am part of the world. It removes the sorrow or fear that may arise, because we can begin to reflect how we are all part of the wonderful weaving of inter-being. We connect with our similarities instead of separateness that can feel too self-powerful, and isolating in a loneliness or impossibility.
I looked at what might be the past life of the tree or even the leaf of the tree:
-when it was the bud, when it enjoyed the Spring, as a new leaf,
and then Summer in full form, each gave it’s whole self, receiving the sunshine, nourishing the tree, and the tree was nourishing the leaf,
and in the autumn as it changed again, as the leaf stopped receiving from the tree because it need to rest, and the leaf stopped giving to the tree, and the wind released it and it gracefully fell, unsad to the earth to nourish the tree, the air, the earth, creatures, a cloud.
Sometimes we think of it, the death of something, as something shocking. The leaf shows us, without impermanence there would be no more life for the tree. Cycles.
We are a continuation of all of our ancestors, like the leaf. The genes we carry even belong to other ancestor species, other mammals, other creatures, other minerals, elements, and forms. It has no beginning and no end. When I look at my body like that, I don’t think of it as my self. I see my face, my hands, the face of my cousins, their hands. I see my parents in them, in me, and wonder how many people have had these features and qualities. I know this body has been entrusted to me by my ancestors to take care of it. I know I am part of the earth, the very cosmos. Who is me? Be yourself, not better than yourself. To be myself is that enough? When I see all this body has been entrusted to me - who is the me - and who is the one who takes care, who has entrusted to ME so I can take care? Behind that we have to look deeply. We may never know.And, it is not a separate self that has a body, this body also has feelings, perceptions, mental formations. It is something to know, however, that the way I think/mindfulness, a consciousness will take care of my body.
Similarly the body will take care of these things, these thoughts, feelings, perceptions. When I walk and massage the earth with my feet and the earth massages my feet, that is my body taking care of my perceptions because the non-stop thinking stops and there is room for presence. There is room for the more of me. When the senses of my body are engaged, my body is taking care of my perceptions, bringing me to the now, bringing me present, allowing for Right Mindfulness so I can release mental formations that are unhelpful and be. Inter-be with the now of whatever I am doing, whomever I am with, present with my body and also the perception of no self. We can be all of our self in the expression of our unique being, in our wholeness as we are a single being, and simultaneously a no self as part of our ancestors, nature, and the cosmos. Combined we understand we are each a unique expression as a continuation, inter-being with all beings, inter-being with our design.
The meditation on the individual leaf, as it is, no other leaf like it now or before, even though it appears similar to the others - the meditation on impermanence, there comes a point in the meditation where the the thinking stops where you become absorbed in the reality of the leaf without words, only in concepts. This is an example of how right thinking is also no thinking. We can see that meditation on something like the cycles and life of a leaf, a contemplation like this, is also a mindfulness way of living, a walking meditation that is different than sitting on a cushion, but is engaged and applied to something troubling, like impermanence and can bring us through to another view, another perception that becomes a part of our understanding as we live. As our understandings grow, we are living examples of impermanence. We are experiencing directly how we are no longer the same as when we began our contemplation on the leaf, on our own continuation and inter-being.
In viewing nature this way, it’s cycles, it’s connection to its ancestors, and its continuations, we can see how we inter-are, how we are very much the same, and how all beings have shared these experiences in the past and will continue beyond us. In this way, there is no self. We have a shared existence. What comes before, what is now, what will come. Our separate self becomes comforted that change is constant and the suffering (anxiety, sorrow, worry, stress) is relieved that there is nothing to fear, we are always doing this change together. There is nothing to hold on to, excepted, perhaps compassion, understanding, kindness, curiosity, joy, the now of our connections, and a deep, dear sense of belonging, regardless of our circumstances.
Releasing into impermanence and no self as a practice is absolutely a practice. Through mindfulness and contemplation, there is a supported path.
24 hours are like an eternity, not lived deeply are nothing.
Here's a very short piece about a whale and impermanence. Enjoy:
Rev. Dr. Birdi Sinclair
Interfaith Spiritual Care and Counseling
Wholeness Arts Specialist
“Begin Peace now. Each now is new.”
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