The Changing Self

In Buddhist philosophy there are two central teachings to the origin of suffering. One is impermanence, the idea that everything is in a constant state of flux. The second is clinging; when we cling to conditions in a changing world, we bind ourselves to suffering.

Clinging to both “bad experiences” and “good experiences” can be a source of suffering. Because when we cling to negative feelings, we prolong their power over our thoughts and actions. Instead of letting them take their course and then letting go, we hold onto these feelings and even begin to identify with them. And when we cling to positive feelings, we also attach to them as our only source of happiness, but we simultaneously set ourselves up for suffering once those positive feelings inevitably go away.

If everything is constantly changing, then the key to living a healthy life must be embracing this change as it unfolds, rather than attaching our happiness to a certain set of conditions. When we learn how to ride out these ebbs and flow of life, we paradoxically find contentment in the present moment (because we learn to embrace whatever is as it is).

Full acceptance of the present moment also includes an acceptance of its transient nature. And full acceptance of yourself also includes an acceptance that you too are always changing. From moment-to-moment, it often feels as though we are a static entity. But when you view yourself 10-20 years in the past, or what you will be 10-20 years in the future, you’ll often find that you can change drastically from one phase of your life to the next.

I find these ideas very conducive to personal development and mental health. Actually, the whole notion that “thing’s change” has helped me overcome countless internal battles over the past few years.

But it takes practice. Mainly, daily mindfulness, and actual eye-witness of this change as it takes place in the present moment. Conceptions of our “static self” can only be de-mystified by daily meditation into the nature of our changing selves. Change is not just an esoteric concept, but an observable, empirical truth that can be discovered by anyone who watches their daily experiences on a consistent basis. One of the my favorite meditations in de-mystifying this fixed self is objectless meditation. It is a pure mindfulness practice where the observer doesn’t try to concentrate on any one object, but instead allows their awareness to expand to the full range of their experience. During such a meditation your object of focus will shift between different sensations in your body, as well as different thoughts, emotions, memories, and imaginations. A person who has developed a strong sense of mindfulness will learn how to better engage in this process of change without clinging to any singular aspect of their experience.

And the ultimate goal of your meditation is to take this awareness into your daily activities. That means embracing change in all aspects of your life: your health, your relationships, your career, your personal habits, etc. All aspects of your being are in a dynamic state of flux. And keeping this simple truth in the back of your mind at all times can do wonders.

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