One of the key concepts in Buddhism is the idea of impermanence, which I realize I’ve been misunderstanding for some time. I had thought that it only referred to macro-impermanence and external impermanence. That is to say, that everything will eventually end in the long run. A cup will eventually break, you will eventually die, etc. This is indeed on aspect of the idea, and it is important to contemplate and internalize.
However, there is another sub-category of the concept, which I will call internal micro-impermanence. This is the idea that experientially, on a very short time frame, every instance of experience is impermanent and in constant flux. This is very apparent when you are first meditating and seeing your “monkey brain” for the first time, which is constantly jumping around from thought to thought and sense to sense when you’re trying your hardest to stay focused on one thing. However, even when you get into a state of concentration, you’ll find that the experience is constantly changing. Obviously the breath is always moving, and once one instance of the in-breath has happened, you’re already on another. Visual meditation objects it’s harder to see the change, but you can see the little dots of your vision (almost like pixels) are always changing / flickering. Additionally, there’s the concept of your center of attention vs your peripheral awareness, and the periphery is always changing, and thoughts keep bubbling up and disappearing into nowhere (another key insight for another time).
This is part of why the “noting gone” exercise so powerful. When you start paying attention to the end of experiences, you’ll find that you notice more and more, until eventually it’s a continuous “gone” or ending.
Another way of describing this is that we “solidify” things when there is nothing truly solid (from an experiential perspective). I find this particularly helpful when experiencing pain or illness. I’ll look at the feelings that are causing pain and try to really feel them as they are, distinguishing them from the running commentary of thoughts about the pain. When I really look at them, I’ll find that the pain is always moving, changing, often in waves. Also I’ll see that often the pain is only there for a short while, then it’s gone, but it’s my thoughts about the pain that are continuing. This practice can also sometimes help you see that the experience and the suffering are separate (I’ll write a post on this later). However, the main exercise here is to see the pain, and all other experiences, are fleeting and in perpetual flux on a very fine scale, not just over the long term.
Hopefully this helps clarify some of the philosophy behind the practice. In quick summary:
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Katherine Xio Savoie
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science. This blog is where I write about everything, particularly happiness, health, life hacks, and psychology.