Impermanence and the origin of actions

The Impermanent nature of mind

As we sit with a relaxed body, a calm mind and focused attention, we witness the arising of thoughts and memories and feelings and emotions. We see that our mind is in a constant state of flux.

We notice too that if we return to our focus point, these mind objects simply disappear without having to be acted on. In this way, we become aware of their temporary nature. We are seeing the impermanent nature of our mind.

It is worth considering that if we define ourselves by our thoughts, feelings, and emotions at any given time, if we believe that this is who we are, then our understanding of ourselves is not solid. This is because who we are at this moment is not who we are in the next.

The urge to act

As we practice mindfulness meditation and we sit with a relaxed body and a calm mind and focused attention, we can begin to examine this process in more depth. We can see that distractions are caused by a spark that originates from our senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. We can see that our once quiet mind is being disturbed and is reacting to these sensory inputs by creating feelings – this is good or this is not good.

Next, our mind recognises the object, and we see thoughts and memories arise. This creates an emotional response related to the object. The emotion then prompts a desire to act. We feel a pull, a tightening of mind as the intention grows stronger.

As an example, our mind may be distracted by a smell. We experience a pleasant feeling as we associate the smell with a memory of pizza. This is then followed by a desire to eat. We then begin planning how to satisfy this desire.

Another example could be the sound of young children crying outside our window. We experience an unpleasant feeling and then a memory of an episode from our childhood of fighting with a friend. We wonder where our old friend is these days and this is followed by an urge to contact them. We start trying to remember where we kept their address and start to worry that maybe we’ve lost it.

Then we remember where we are. We remember that we have chosen to practice by placing our attention on the sensation of the breath. We coax our attention back to this focus point and the feelings, thoughts, memories, emotions, and intention to act fade away and then disappear of their own volition.

We return to the process of training our mind.

Taking our practice outside

In our busy daily lives, we are drawn to act without ever being consciously aware of where the intention to act has come from. While meditating, however, we have the opportunity to observe the arising of the motivation for the action  – the sense input, followed by the feeling, followed by the arising of thought and emotions, followed by the desire to act. As our practice strengthens, we are gradually able to take this ability into the world away from our cushion. We have the opportunity to recognise the feeling, observe the thought or emotion, feel the pull of the desire to act and then choose not to act. In this way, we begin to loosen the grip that desires that have become habits have on our day to day behaviour.

We are able to choose a more appropriate response that is not simply based on habits. We are experiencing the freedom that is at the heart of mindfulness meditation.

Where to from here

Many of our actions are habitual and are linked to life stories that formed in our childhoods. Understanding more about the way habits and life stories are formed will help us to respond in more appropriate ways.

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