Our thoughts are like waves in the ocean. They keep coming. Sometimes, it feels like the waves are bigger and we’re fighting for air. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.
I have been practicing mindfulness for about a year and change. I try for 15 minutes a day, and most days I hit the mark. This article isn’t about the benefits of mindfulness but about one lesson I learned early on that stuck with me since.
It’s the art of impermanence. The basic idea is that well, everything in life is fleeting. Those emotions, thoughts, stresses, challenges, highs, and lows — they come and go. Moments in life are a constant state of change, and when we accept this reality, it can bring great peace. This concept of impermanence doesn’t change anything in your life, but it can make the ride simpler.
Here are a few more things you can come to expect when practicing the art of impermanence.
Impermanence helps you remember that sh-tty moments are just that
When we accept impermanence, we know that just as there are good thoughts, there are sh-tty ones. The key to remember that these are your thoughts and you have complete control over whether or not to give them roots. Next time you have a negative thought, emotion, etc. acknowledge it, and let it go. The cool thing is the more you practice this, the easier it gets. Don’t give those thoughts room in your mental house — they can enter, but they are not welcome to stay.
“If you give things more time and energy than they deserve, they’re no longer lesser things. You’ve made them important by the life you’ve spent on them. And sadly, you’ve made the important things — your family, healthy or true commitments — less so as a result of what you’ve stolen from them” Ryan Holiday The Daily Stoic.
Impermanence means you might appreciate the happy moments more
This whole idea that you can be 100% happy all the time is bull. If you continue to believe this every day, you are setting yourself up for failure. Just as you can choose to let negative thoughts or feelings go, you should accept that happy ones don’t stay long in your mental house either. And rather than continuing to chase them to block out the negative ones, you need to accept that they both will visit from time to time. Stop seeking happiness all the time, learn to appreciate it when it comes around.
It’s partly sunny or partly cloudy — Your choice
When you look up in the sky on a partly cloudy day, you have a choice — you can see that there is plenty of blue and sunshine in the sky, or you can choose to focus on the clouds. I believe that no matter the situation you can learn to see the good in it.
When my daughters left for college, I chose to appreciate the opportunity that lies ahead for them and look forward to how they respond to these new challenges. Had I just focused on the fact they were leaving, I would have wound up sitting in a corner and crying.
Granted, there are things in life that you have to dig deep to find the good, but if you practice taking a moment and looking for the positive, you’ll see a lot more of it around.
“Changing your view of reality can have such profound effects that you can attract what you desire. It is not about wishing for riches, but it is changing your view of the world so that you can see riches coming to you.”
It can bring a sense of calm to the chaos
Think of all the calm you can bring to your life when appreciating impermanence. Did you move into a new dorm and are feeling sad to have left home? Now you know that this moment, while sh-tty and you are certainly feeling it, will pass and it won’t hurt as much. Did you have a really good laugh with a friend? Take a moment and appreciate it before it’s gone. Moments are just that — a moment. So learn to enjoy the good ones and let the others go and pretty soon you’ll feel an overall sense of calm.
It helps increase empathy
I find that practicing the art of impermanence has increased my empathy. Allow the state of impermanence in your life, and you carry less judgment. This state of accepting moments for what they are will enable you to appreciate moments more and increased our empathy for others.
It’s free — No subscription or prescription required
Accepting the state of impermanence is FREE. You don’t have to sign up for a class, download an app or register somewhere online. No grades, there is no teacher standing over you. No need to carry a large textbook, take quizzes or tests. Start right this second and you can do it at no cost. Here’s how — the next thought that comes to your head, acknowledge it and let it go. Now repeat.
Maybe it takes a bit of practice
While you don’t have to pay, like all things, it will take a lot of practice. And, you will find that there are many moments where the idea of accepting thoughts for what they are is not as easy as we hoped.
I always remind myself that practicing mindfulness or allowing a state of impermanence doesn’t make the waves go away, but they don’t seem as big as they once were. Keep working at this every day, and soon you’ll find the ride is not bad at all.
This article is dedicated to my kids. In my opinion, they have it a lot harder than we ever did. Hopefully, they can tack this on their wall and remind themselves that this ride is much more comfortable when you let the waves come and go.
This article first appeared on Medium.