The Lens of Impermanence
In a recent Being Well podcast, Rick Hanson discusses viewing our experiences - particularly difficult ones - through the lens of impermanence. It’s a way to keep the bigger picture in mind when it comes to negative experiences with others, with yourself; even positive situations. After all, our lives are just a sum total of experiences, woven together into a cohesive sense of self, entirely synthesized by our brains. What is actually real? We live in a virtual reality created by our minds; as a result, my experience of any given situation is probably different from yours, based on my life experience, physiology, and many other factors.
One of the practical suggestions that resonated with me was the idea of sitting with our negative experiences and really dissecting them as an impartial observer. In this sense, the actual content of the conflict is irrelevant; only our experience is. For example, in a disagreement, one might start with the experience of “why I’m right and you’re wrong”, but beneath the veneer of righteousness are the basic building blocks of the negative experience: raw emotional reactions – all of which are inherently meaningless, temporary, and fleeting. They’re no more than neurons firing together temporarily in a specific part of the brain. This practice elevates us to the role of impartial observer, instead of fighter caught in the fray.
Hanson offers a great way to conceptualize the process; you might imagine a large woven tapestry covering a wall, representing your experience. From ten feet away, you can clearly see what’s depicted in the tapestry, but as you move in so your face almost touches the tapestry, all you see are tiny threads, each of which is inherently devoid of meaning. The point is, it’s all just a story, woven together out of pieces of nothingness.
Perhaps it's the reminder of impermanence that draws us to nature. Nature's majestic backdrops are stages on which many lives come and go; eventually, even the backdrop will be gone. It's a powerful reminder not to get caught up in the nitty gritty of daily existence.
Thanks for reading, and have a great week.