Weekly Practice (Impermanence)

For this Weekly Practice we are going to explore impermanence. Don’t lament, “Oh, I know everything is impermanent!” No matter what ideas you currently have about impermanence, no matter how much you may have dug into this topic before, let’s look at it in detail this week.

While most of us have a basic awareness that everything in the world is impermanent, if you pay attention, you may catch yourself acting as though some things are ever-lasting. Have you gone into relationships wanting it to last a lifetime? What was your expectations when purchasing a new car? Do you assume your children are going to outlive you? Were you shocked when your work downsized and you had to look for a new job? While we have a cursory understanding that the world is not permanent, we often base our expectations and reactions as though things, situations, and relationships will last forever.

What Buddha Said

(Girimanda Sutta, translation by Piyadassi Thera)

i. “And what, Ananda, is contemplation of impermanence? Herein, Ananda, a monk having gone to the forest or to the foot of a tree or to an empty house (lonely place) contemplates thus: ‘Matter (visible objects) is impermanent; feeling or sensation is impermanent; perception is impermanent; formations are impermanent; consciousness is impermanent. Thus he dwells contemplating impermanence in these five aggregates.’ This, Ananda, is called contemplation of impermanence.

(Girimanda Sutta, translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

[1] “And what is the perception of inconstancy? There is the case where a monk — having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building — reflects thus: ‘Form is inconstant, feeling is inconstant, perception is inconstant, fabrications are inconstant, consciousness is inconstant.’ Thus he remains focused on inconstancy with regard to the five clinging-aggregates. This, Ananda, is called the perception of inconstancy.

Question What Buddha Said

Now, let’s not just assume that Buddha is right. Let’s take what he said, and take time each day to sit or engage in moving mediation to explore what was said above. Then you’ll follow this by taking what you learn in meditation into daily life.


Set aside time for meditation every day, either sitting or moving, or both. Make sure you’re in a comfortable, safe place, with the likeliness of interruption minimal. You can deviate from the instructions below, but do try them out. You don’t need memorize everything below. Read through the sutta snippets above and the directions below daily before each session.

Sitting meditation:

  •  Set aside time each day for up to an hour. Any amount of time will be of benefit.
  • Once settled into a comfortable position, bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Note any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
  • After your initial body scan, bring your awareness to your breath. Follow the breath in and out. Is the breath even or inconsistent? Are you breathing one, long permanent breath, or a series of breaths? What is the feeling at the end of the breath? What is the feeling of the beginning of the next breath? Is breathing an ongoing, ever-changing process? Does the depth and feel of the breath change? Explore the breath in this way, in and out, in and out . . .
  • Inevitably, at some point, body sensations, thoughts, emotions, outside sounds are bound to interrupt your exploration of the breath. Note what arose in your experience. Note the nature of the interruption, your reaction, then gently return to the breath. Continue exploring the breath. If something arises again, notice it, notice your reaction, then return to the breath. Keep doing this for whatever time you can dedicate to it.
  • In the last five minutes or so, bring your awareness to the top of your head again, repeat the same slow body scan you did before. Has anything changed? Are there new body sensations that have arisen? Do you lack feeling in areas that you previously felt? Did any body parts fall asleep? Is anything tingling?
  • Before you rise, recall what you explored, reflect about the interruptions you had from focusing on the breath. Did outside sounds arise and fall away? Did any of the interruptions last, unending? Did thoughts come and go? What were your reactions to these? Did those reactions last? What happened with your conscious awareness? Did you ever find yourself lost in thought?
  • Repeat this mediation every day

Moving mediation:

  • Moving meditation can be done through walking, yoga, tai chi, or simply moving your body in a designated, safe area.
  • Bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Notice any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
  • Begin your movements in your preferred form. Pay attention to how each  muscle feels as you move. Notice your breath, in and out. Keep your movements small and deliberate, your attention on your body, as you move your arms or legs. Notice how muscles contract and release. Is there tension in your body anywhere? Can you relax the muscles you are not using?
  • Bring your awareness to balance. How does your balance change as you move? How does your awareness need to change as you shift your balance? Do your muscles perform consistent with each similar movement?
  • Notice when thoughts or emotions arise. As they do, is your balance effected? How often is  your concentration on the movement of your body broken by outside sounds, arising thoughts, feelings, emotions.
  • Near the end of your moving meditation, take time to stand still, and do another body scan. Has any sensations in your body changed? Are some of your muscles tired, relaxed? Do you feel more alert or less alert? How did your conscious awareness shift or change through your meditation.
  • Repeat this session every day.

Bringing Meditation into Daily Living

Meditation on the cushion or through slow, deliberate movements is like laboratory time. We slow life down enough so we can have a close look at it. It’s like taking a dance video and watching it in slow motion. Once the individual movements are seen, the transitions noted, then the normal speed version makes more sense if you want to learn to dance.

By mediating each day, you’ll notice clearly how everything arises and passes away. While exploring impermanence, you notice a lot of other interesting occurrences too, and have special insights into the nature of the five aggregates: matter, sensation, perception, formations, and consciousness (or form, feeling, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness).

Question everything!

As you go through your day, search for something that is permanent, notice all the things that are impermanent. Pay special attention to the aggregates as they arise. Is the annoyance that arises over your boss’ attitude permanent, or does it arise and fall away? How does perception arise and form in the mind? Is it permanent? What happens with your consciousness throughout the day?

Look at your relationship to the people in your life. Observe how your understanding of impermanence, or idea of permanence as the case may be, shapes your expectations of people. Can you consider any of these relationships permanent?

What happens with body feelings? Do they come and go? Are they persistent or permanent? And what about emotions? Are any of your emotions, your reactions to situations shaped and molded by your expectations of permanency? How permanent are emotions? Do you love certain people all the time permanently, or does also arise, fade away, and arise again? What about the person who annoys you most? Are your feelings about that person permanent, or do feeling of annoyance arise and fade away along with feeling of neutrality?

Throughout the week keep asking yourself these questions. Reread the passages above from the suttas. Continue exploring impermanence as you go through your daily tasks, while you’re at work, as you are driving home, cooking dinner, and going to bed at night. What happens to consciousness after your in bed awhile? Is consciousness permanent? Is anything permanent?

Impermanence is one of the Three Marks of Existence. Is it true that impermanence is a trait of existence? Explore . . .

Return here and share your observations, your insights, and discuss with others the interesting discoveries you make.

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