Meditating on Impermanence
Once a devotee offered a length of cloth to his spiritual teacher and begged him for his enlightened teachings, the teacher did not respond. But this student insisted again and again, and finally, the teacher took the man’s hands in his and said, “I will die, you will die,” three times. And then added, “That’s all that my guru taught me, and that’s all that I practice. Just meditate on that. I promise there is nothing greater than that.”
THE FEAR OF DEATH
This story was shared with me on my first year at the Pullahari monastery where I was learning about the 4 thoughts that turn our minds inwards or to the dharma (spiritual teachings). One of those was the thought of death and impermanence. As I sat in this beautiful shrine room at the end of the first day of the teachings I was overwhelmed, the room felt peaceful but I felt lost, tired and afraid. Here I was in Kathmandu, staying in a monastery with people I didn’t know, my body slowly recovering from food poisoning, and in my first day of teachings I was being asked to imagine myself dying! I remember thinking, what am I doing here? I want to learn to meditate, how is this helpful to me or anyone.
Upon reflection, these teachings were beyond me, only now am I resonating with the words and practices given to me 3 years ago. What was fear, sadness and disgust at the words ‘ I will die, you will die’ is transforming to a deeper understanding of what reflecting on impermanence of all things means. I appreciate we are all at different stages in our journeys and this teaching may not resonate with you at this moment but keep an open mind about this practice.
I use this short practice (below) to reflect and meditate on my impermanence and the impermanence of all things each morning:
I find a comfortable position, close my eyes and affirm may this meditation bring about greater peace and happiness for all beings. I then begin to observe my breath, each one different from the one before, flowing through time, always changing, I can’t go back to the breath before. I take my awareness to all the changes happening in my body, each heartbeat, new cells emerging, shifting, changing and dying and being born, I observe my inner world-changing with each breath, I move my awareness to the things around me, my bed, cushion, clothes I am wearing.
Observing things as they are, nothing is really solid and static they are a mass of tiny particles moving around in space. Everything is changing, the world around us, our houses, nature, the air we breathe nothing stays the same, each breath I take there are millions of transformations everywhere. I sit with this thought, observing each moment moving to the next. I see how little anyone can hold on to time, when I find myself going down into a low place I remind myself of this practice, dedicating more moments to loving kind thoughts. (I then dedicate any virtue of this practise to all beings so everyone can find happiness wherever they are).
Once we move past the sadness and loss that death brings to all our lives, we can come to realise the life and expansion that acknowledging and coming to peace with its existence provides. Death is not a taboo it is certain for us and everyone we know and meet, yet the moment of death is uncertain. Anything we cling too is evanescent as a snowflake. Meditating on impermanence is useful to help us realise the true value of our life and time. Understanding our transience will only illuminate the preciousness of our existence by reducing the suffering of clinging and believing we or anyone truly owns anyone or anything.
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