New Year’s goals already discarded? This may be why…Meditation Resources – Part 3

 I have been assiduously avoiding this 3rd “meditation resources” email  because the topic I chose was impermanence.  Impermanence is central to  meditation and topical given the intractability we often assign to New Year’s  resolutions.

But as it happens, impermanence is woefully difficult to write about without sounding trite or like new-age intellectual pap, or without hurtling anyone (myself especially) into an unneeded existential crisis.  So, naturally, I avoided it.

Luckily, (lamely?) I was rescued by a quote:

In the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata, a wise king is asked to name the most wondrous thing in the universe.  “The most wonderful thing in the universe,” he says, “is that all around us people are dying and we don’t believe it will happen to us.”    (p 23 Salzberg book below)

That is the extreme example – but it drives the point home.

Nothing about the world is permanent.  And thank goodness for it – if things were permanent we’d never be able to learn a new language (neural plasticity!); or learn how to use Windows 8; or, you know, be able make new people.  But we constantly try to make things permanent, entrenched, just like they were yesterday, and so on.  We are arrogantly fighting physics and simultaneously fashioning our own misery.

Being attached to specific outcomes – being  resolute! – doesn’t actually allow for change, it demands your specifically desired change. (It is also a somewhat unscientific approach.)

For example, most of us say “I want to weigh 150 pounds” (or whatever amount) and then every step onto the scale is a chance to trounce on your mind, because you aren’t at that number.   But if you build muscle – you will gain weight and change the structure of your body …such that maybe should weigh 155 pounds. That is a prosaic example, but shows how we set ourselves up for failure with entrenched views.  Worse still, we miss how fun the “oh, I am changing” part is; we miss observing the impermanence.

Afford some curiosity in your goals.  Allow some chance for small failures, alterations, re-direction… growth. You will observe the impermanence, and make it less scary. When impermanence is less scary – we grasp less, need resolutions less, and we observe more.  Plus, then you are better at physics, or at least at watching Cosmos.  

 Mediation makes getting to know impermanence easier.  It helps you develop  the skills not lose it when things you were attached to (permanently) didn’t go  your way.  It’s not a panacea.  It just helps strengthen those parts of the  brain that give you that bit of distance from fear, habit, attachment and so on.  Those parts of  the brain are there – this is an exercise to develop them.  So, this year you can set and reach fun goals.

We may as well have fun with change – since impermanence is utterly unavoidable.  (Unless you can stop entropy, and then you can have Neil de Grasse Tyson’s job, be a superhero, and make all the entrenched resolutions you like!)  


1) I just read this book and recommend it for anyone looking for a how-to on starting to meditate:
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program
by Sharon Salzberg

…plus it comes with a swell CD that has her guided meditations! … and you are just in time to take the 28 day meditation challenge (there is a kick off in BK this Sunday)

2) For an excellent lecture on the topic above – by someone far more articulate than I am, please take advantage of Sam Harris’s “Living in the now – Death and the Present Moment” 

3) Check out  another option for classes (see previous blog for classes at kadampa) here:

4) Finally, a 2-hour lecture on meditation and some of the neuroscience behind it, also by Sam Harris, is below.  I cannot recommend enough how this is worth both the $4.99 and your time: