The One Constant

 

The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined the phrase,“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” besttranslated as — The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same.

Exploring this expression more closely posits an apparent connection of two contrasting ideas: Impermanence and Continuity.

Perhaps, strange as it may seem, let’s consider a quote from the New Testament. In his own way, using words and ideas that people of his time would understand, Jesus Christ was trying to teach about impermanence. As you read the quote, feel free to substitute “Nature,” “the Universe,” “Awakened Consciousness,” or an alternative rendition that may also resonate; in place of words like “Father” and “God.” This will help put aside the “religious” layer and get to the heart of the message.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15–17 ESV

There is much reliable evidence to suggest that Jesus spent many years in India, learning their scriptures and the Yogic way. Keeping this in mind, we can understand the above quote to be saying that all the things we associate with our Earthly existence — our physical bodies, feelings, thoughts, etc. — are passing or impermanent. And yet, there is something of ourselves which continues in the face of all this impermanence.

What is that thing, and how can we discover it?

Before we explore that question, let’s check out what science has to say about impermanence and continuity. Perhaps the most famous statement is Einstein’s first law of thermodynamics: the total amount of energy in a closed system (like our Earthly planet) can change its form as often as it wants, but it cannot be created nor destroyed.

So, despite our cycles of birth-development-death of living things — and creation-decay of non-living things (impermanence), there is “something” that continues.

In search of “That Thing”

We begin with anicca (or anitya in Sanskrit), known as “the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence.” Everything, human and non-human, comes into existence and goes out of existence — this includes our thoughts and feelings. Observances in Buddhism do not support a belief in permanenceor eternalism.

Truly accepting that impermanence characterizes all; is an essential step in the journey towards spiritual illumination and perhaps a greater sense of freedom.

And yet, isn’t there also continuity?

Its a Feeling

Consider a kite in the wind. Between the maneuvering of the person holding its string, the pushing and pulling of the air around it, the kite itself has little control over its movements.

What if the kite could somehow create a calm, physical zone or buffer around itself? Firstly, the kite could continue to observe all the external forces. At the same time, it would be independent of them.

Pratyahara, or the ‘withdrawal of the senses,’ can be described as a calm, physical zone or buffer around ourselves. We feel with greater clarity and are fully aware of all external forces because we learn to focus our attention and remain tethered to an internal stream of consciousness. While, at the same time, those external forces do not have a disproportionate impact on us. We choose which ones we react to and what our reaction will be.

The “myself” which continues when all the impermanent physical forces are zoned out (or buffered away) can be thought of as “that thing.”

Developing “that thing”: Anapana Sata

Also, in Anapanasati or just anapana, we may translate this written name and practice it as “mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing.” Sure, we breathe in and out every day, tens of thousands of times — roughly 23,000 on average.

How often do we pay attention to those breaths?

Observing or paying attention to our breath requires intense concentration. We must focus only on the air entering our nostrils and the air exiting them.

One of the instructions for an in-and-out-breathing meditation — could be to feel the qualities (cold, warm, damp, etc.) of the inhaling air on the upper lip as it passes into the nose and then notice the exhaling air as it passes out of the nose. Many people who have practiced for years still have trouble feeling the passing air on their lips. Yet, this does not matter.

The very fact that they are engaged in trying means that they are succeeding at the goal of tuning out distractions and tuning in to a deeper concentrated awareness. This process builds that calm zone or buffers around themselves, a designated distance, from external forces’ direct impact. They are strengthening “that thing which continues” inside themselves.

Using “that thing”: enriching our lives

If you are practicing mindful in-and-out-breathing and…

Dogs begin to bark hysterically outside. Can you still focus on your breath?

The single fly in a room full of people chooses to explore your face. What are you paying attention to now?

Your neighbors get into an intense screaming match. Does it distract you?

Lunchtime approaches, and your stomach is aching for food. Where is your mind?

It is the end of the year, and the school next door to the yoga studio is having a party, including a high sound level of your least-loved type of music. Are you still with your accompanying breath?

The more you can remain mindful amid all disturbances, the greater your ability to remain continuously “you” within the impermanence of living.

Being continuously “you” gives you the freedom to choose your reactions, even during the worst circumstances. You make the decisions that steer your life in alignment, rather than allowing external forces to exert a push and pull in any direction, otherwise unconsciously. As many wise ones teach us, having a choice is a key to nourishing bliss.

 

Embracing Your Health & Wellbeing — Time After Time.