It’s common for those who practice mindfulness to experience all kinds of interesting and curious sensations. There are even those who may have mystical experiences of merging with everything around them and becoming part of something bigger.
There is a hidden danger to these experiences. Rather than freeing us, they can act as quicksand, sucking us in rather than moving us forward. Often we try to grab and repeat such moments, believing that we have suddenly accessed truth or reality, becoming confused and dispirited when these experiences fade.
And of course they do fade, simply because all experiences do. Every thought, feeling, emotion, sensation and perception comes and goes, ebbs and flows, because they are made from the universe and the universe is constant flow.
In fact the word universe means One Movement and if the universe is movement, then we are that too.
We often believe that the universe is out there in deep space expressing itself as the Horse Head Nebula, rather than sitting right here, drinking a cup of tea. But of course, we are the universe too simply because there is only the universe.
There is only this total movement which encompasses and includes everything. It ripples infinitely in all directions, equally creating, transforming and destroying all of its forms, moment after moment.
The fact that experience is movement is vital to appreciate. To see this fundamental aspect of impermanence or transience is actually more liberating than any fleeting mystical experience we may try to cling to.
This is because it is the clear seeing of impermanence which release and melts all grasping.
Without noticing this moment to moment, real-time flow, we confine ourselves to an imaginary world of solid things, people and situations. When we are hypnotised by this dream of permanence the very notion of change appears threatening rather than freeing.
The way in which we use language is a good reflection of how we tend to identify with experiences which are by their very nature, fleeting and ungraspable. So often we assert that I am sad or I am happy essentially equating ourselves with a transient state of mind.
This is a misunderstanding. I cannot be sadness because sadness is an impermanent emotion which arises and fades as a consequence of internal and external conditions, all of which are themselves in a state of constant flux.
Because of this, sadness cannot last.
Likewise, I cannot be happiness because happiness is also an impermanent emotion which arises and fades as a consequence of internal and external conditions, all of which are themselves in a state of constant flux.
Because of this, happiness cannot last.
When we identify ourselves with something transient, we misunderstand and this creates confusion, frustration and suffering. Our misery is often a direct result of not seeing what life does, and can only do.
But not all languages allow this mistaken identification with fleeting experiences. In Manx Gaelic for instance (the native language of the Isle of Man) you would say Sadness is on me” rather than “I am sad.”
Sadness is on me, happiness is on me, fear is on me. To state that something is on you is much different to asserting that something is you. Indeed, if something is on you then it can also be off you, like a piece of clothing. I wear a scarf on a cold day but that does not mean I am the scarf. Wearing it has a time-limit, I do not wear it forever.
Here, in the Manx language (and other ancient cultures) there is the recognition that states of mind come and go, arise and fade. Nothing stays fixed and nothing stays solid. Yes, we have experiences, but we are not them.
The same can also be said for our most intimate experiences of self. Every thing we could possibly say about ourselves is made from a moment to moment flux of bubbling, fizzing, shifting sensation; a rippling ocean of aliveness which we try to grasp, define and limit, as a solid object called “me.”
In Sanskrit the word for thinking translates as Vritti meaning waves or ripples, likewise the etymology of the word emotion implies moving or stirring.
So life is not what we think it is. It is in fact made of waves; waves of thought, waves of emotion, waves of sensation, all of which are even now, rippling and shifting, ever fresh and ever new.
Each wave lasts only a fraction of a second, and yet, how long do we have to wait before another wave arises? Each moment effortlessly arises, effortlessly disappears.
Of course, there is no special practice to make all of this happen because it’s happening right now. From the big bang to this very instant the universe has never stopped. Our job is only to open our eyes to this movement so that our misconceived world-view can be transformed and liberated.
When we reframe ourselves as life itself rather than as a small and separate cog, then we no longer feel the need to grasp at some experience and fight off others. Both our likes and dislikes melt into the fire of now.
Then we realise that freedom and awe, truth and beauty are not rare mystical experiences which happen out there somewhere, either in a Himalayan Cave or in ten years time, but are here and now – exploding – in a simple and ordinary way, as this, as this, as this.