Impermanence, habits, and living forever

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I came across this really interesting article on NPR about how habits affects your perception of reality.

Things titled “How to Live Forever” tend to catch my attention – I wish that Transhumanism was viewed more as a critical area of scientific focus rather than with the derision it seems to usually receive from the public. I’ve written about this before, but anyway…

The article has little to do with living forever, and more to do with experiencing life as it happens. Much of our lives are spent floating through without truly experiencing it. Right now, as I type this, at 9am on a Sunday morning, I haven’t stopped to think about where my fingers are falling on the keyboard. I’m not listening to the soft snores of my baby daughter in the swing next to me, nor am I paying attention to the sound of the swing itself as it lulls her to sleep. I’m not noticing the soft fur of my dog as he sleeps pressed up against my leg. I’m not paying attention to the birds chirping outside my open window while the cool morning air wafts through my house. I’m instead waiting for my Sharepoint deployment to finish (Sharepoint deployments are slow!) while I try to pour some thoughts into this blog post. I’m not experiencing life; I’m going through the motions.

When you listen to a song, you experience something that unfolds in and extends in time. We experience the song as a unified temporally-extended whole, even though, from a certain standpoint, we are confined only to the sounds we here right now at this instant. How can the past sounds, and the sounds that have not yet played, structure what I now hear? Answer: I don’t hear sounds. I don’t live in a world of points. I experience a vector quantity. I hear phrases, musical ideas rushing forth and thrusting forward. I know where the ball is going to land, not because it has landed already, but because I perceive its arc.

Buddhism teaches that life itself is impermanence, in fact, this is the first of the Three Characteristics.

All things are impermanent. This is one of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha and the second to last sentence he uttered before he died: “All phenomena are impermanent! Work out your salvation with diligence!” In his last words, he said everything you need to know to do insight practices. Things come and go. Nothing lasts for even an instant! Absolute transience is truly the fundamental nature of experiential reality.

To go even further with Buddhism, the second of the Four Noble Truths is that the origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

Realizing that being attached to something that doesn’t actually exist, because everything is impermanent, will put you well down the path to enlightenment.

If you don’t enjoy life, extending it to forever seems largely useless. So, although my Sharepoint deployment still isn’t working, and I have a thousand things on my todo list that I haven’t quite gotten to, my sons are up and it’s Saturday morning. We’re going to watch some cartoons…


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