Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Three Things

The Buddha taught there are three characteristics that all human beings share:
  • Impermanence 
  • Egolessness  
  • Suffering 
If we can recognize these in our lives, we can learn to let go, to soften into things as they are. As we pay attention to the sensations in the body, the flow of emotions and thoughts through the mind, and the changing situations of our everyday lives, we come to know impermanence. As we recognize the self behind the role we play, we see how ego is a creation of the mind. As we notice how we cling to things we want and push away what we don't want, our suffering dissolves and we simply experience life as it is.

Life is constantly changing! It's unpredictable and out of our control. We know that everything changes, even to the cells of our body. But emotionally we have a deep-seated need to hold on to what we think is permanent. Often it doesn't matter whether we are enjoying the situation or not. We just don't want to change. The teachings give us permission to relax into the obvious truth of change. There's comfort in knowing that all things change, that no one is immune to impermanence.

Egolessness is sometimes called no-self. But this is misleading, we do not really disappear when we let go of the rigid idea that we are solid and separate from each other. The mind creates ego in order to try to control life, to feel this false sense of security. Egolessness gives us permission to be comfortable with the idea of not knowing, of not needing to control. Pema Chodron says, "In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity." Egolessness reminds us that each moment is unique and fresh.

If we can detach from the ego, from the roles we play in everyday life, if we can know that we are not our body, mind, or roles, we can stay open and curious about our beliefs. Chodron believes the Buddha would tell us the very best use of our lives as humans is to be open and curious, watching as layers of beliefs and assumptions dissolve away.

The third characteristic is suffering or dissatisfaction. Basically, we suffer because of three misunderstandings. First, we believe that we should be able to understand everything, that life is predictable; and because it's not, we suffer. Second, we proceed as if we are a separate, fixed identity and this brings suffering. Third, we mistake what brings suffering for what brings happiness and remain stuck in patterns that continue the suffering.

Our being is actually pure openness, the experience of awe, surprise, and wonder in each moment. As our awareness moves more and more into this openness, we dissolve into Being.  It becomes natural, effortless to accept everything just as it is.

1 comment:

  1. There is so much truth in what you write. I know these things, why can I not remember them? Your willingness to share prompts me to once again be more mindful!