Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Path to #enlightenment - step 4 of 10000000........ 'Impermanence and Happiness'

For a while I've been trying to balance my curiosity at finding more about enlightenment with the fear of losing a sense of a meaning and a purpose, if I do accidentally stumble upon 'the ultimate truth of all there is'.

Like Steven Norquist has said in his essay What is Enlightenment: "You see, with enlightenment comes the knowledge that even though there is much activity in the world, there are no doers.The universe is, in a sense, lifeless. There is no one, only happenings and the experience of happenings." I fear that realising this will make me unable to take action. If life is impermanent and no one is actively contributing to the bigger picture - rather, the picture contributes to itself -  then nothing we do really does matter that much. 

The bright side of the impermanence coin

But what I have recently come  to realise is that the coin of impermanence has two sides, and, whether you consider yourself to be enlightened or not, your experience in life is likely to depend on which side you choose to play. 

One of these sides is sure to lead you down a path of apathy, at its best, or deep despair, at its worst. I imagine it would be something like Norquist describes happening when he began to perceive the truth of existence: "I was an avid reader but now can barely open up a book. I loved and played the guitar for years but now have zero interest in picking one up. Even writing these few words is a colossal effort." But does it really have to be this way? 

The other side of the impermanence coin could, potentially, give you true freedom by allowing you to treat your life as a playground rather than some serious business. 

If you removed the need for success and money (very serious attributes - we all have bills to pay and so on) and instead focused on doing things that contribute to your happiness - wouldn't you live a truly rich, fulfilled life by simply enjoying and experiencing each moment as it happens?

The cyclical nature of time

I quit my full-time job a few months ago, and since then my routine has been a constant struggle with getting to grips with a new freelancer lifestyle, often condemning myself that I have not been doing enough in order to earn as much money as I could have done. Eventually though, I somehow make up for the 'lost hours' the moment I stop worrying about them. 

What's more, recently I have found liberation in the idea that time as a concept doesn't exist - instead of following a linear pattern, it goes on in endless cycles. Days follow a cyclical pattern, as do the seasons, one moment to the next, always transforming, but not necessarily progressing anywhere. The fact that today is the 5th of April, 2016 serves only the purpose of ensuring that we all use the same system to measure time and therefore makes it easier to make arrangements. But it's not really 2016 - I feel that it's more true to say that we live in a kind of time vacuum. 

We are not evolving towards anything. Even aging is not a straight narrative. You are simply changing, and things don't end with death like our society tells us - death, to me, seems like a passage into another existence, yet another transformation. 

Just because we are unable to perceive it from our limited perspective, does not mean that it is necessarily something terrible. And eternity itself may be at our fingertips - maybe the way to experience it is by fully immersing yourself in the present moment.

Life as a playground

Because nothing, except the present moment, matters or even exists - and because even that present moment does not matter a great deal in the big frame of things, we have the freedom to regard life as a playground. 

I would like to quote here one of my favourite spiritual writings, The Book of Ecclesiastes, allegedly written by King Solomon who, despite the riches, women and power he is said to have enjoyed in his long life, lamented it as meaningless. "So I loathed all the fruit of my effort, for which I worked so hard on earth, because I must leave it behind in the hands of my successor. Who knows if he will be a wise man or a fool?"

No matter how hard you labor away at a certain task; no matter how hard you work in a certain job - whether you are there for two years, ten years or your whole life - the truth is that your job will eventually be handed over to someone else, and they may not share the same passion for it, or may have very different ideas to yours. 

Everything you do, all your ideas, may disappear from the face of the Earth within a measly hundred years. 

Source www.zenthinking.net 

This is most profoundly obvious if you look at gravestones in a graveyard - stones that were so beautifully crafted and erected only 200 years ago are so decayed that they are barely legible. The memory of those people who once lived, which they tried to preserve so carefully, has disappeared completely. Although you may at first be appalled by this statement and want to run as far as possible from the thought that the same is likely to happen to you, I ask you to stay with me and consider this idea from the bright side of the impermanence coin. How much weight you can lift off your shoulders if you remember that your work will one day be handed over to someone else, so you should only do as much as feels good.

Remembering that all my efforts in life are essentially futile, gives me a greater allowance to do whatever the hell I want to do (of course, so long as it doesn't involve hurting others). Any 'mistake' I make really isn't a big deal, and I can begin to choose to dedicate my energy towards something that I like, even if it does not come with the stamp of 'success' or 'promotion'.

Ready for a fun challenge?

Because of this new knowledge, I am going to set myself a challenge to start each day by doing that which makes me most happy. Instead of answering emails, I will start my day by writing a little or painting or even just making out! Ultimately, if life is impermanent, then doing something that makes me happy is no less important than doing a task for the sake of earning money or a chore I've been putting off for ages. 

Starting your day by putting the action which you most enjoy at the forefront, in the framework of impermanence, simply seems like the sane choice.

What is your thing that you love doing above all others? Make it a priority and join me in this challenge - start your day by prioritising what makes you happy. I would love to find out what difference that makes in your life - share your experience in the comments!


  1. You keep speaking to me with these posts! I absolutely need to learn to live in the moment more and this is a really intriguing idea.

    I suppose you need to accept the initial premise (whichever side of the coin you then choose)... but once having accepted that, your philosophy does speak to me. The difficulty I suppose is translating that rational idea into my personality... Like when trying to implement mindfulness, it's trying to rewire the brain that is difficult, even if you can see what's wrong actually changing your thinking is the real problem implementing such an idea.


    1. Thanks for reading again, Tom :)

      Yeah, rewiring the brain is pretty hard, I struggle with it myself. More and more I find that the brain has this incredible capacity of finding proof to whichever belief you hold, so changing those would ultimately change your reality. It's difficult to do that though, when you've been used to thinking a certain way since forever. But maybe noticing and actually believing that things can be different, is the first step to take.

      I've also heard some amazing things from people who have gone away to do 10 days or a month of silent meditation where you're basically cut off from everything. Apparently you can get amazing insights into the reality of existence and it makes me think.... how 10 days or a month seems like a lot of time to spend on that, but in the bigger picture of your whole life, it's really such a small portion and could have such a profound effect...

      Anyway, keep me posted on how the mindfulness goes - hopefully, we can both become better rooted in the moment :)