Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Winds of Change (Anicca)

Though at first it was gentle as it lightly brushed against the leaves of the trees and other local plant life, the wind has picked up somewhat. Whole branches now bend to its power, and the neighbor’s blanket looks like it might ascend to the heavens any moment as it’s ruffled from its lazy position draped over a gate. All around me are the signs of change, as the wind intensifies in its efforts to disrupt this sleepy neighborhood. But, it is just a forerunner of what’s to come, a prophet predicting the coming of a more potent god – the rain. Here in Thailand, a strong wind that builds up in intensity is often the precursor to a tropical deluge. It’s a sign of the changing weather and the downpour to come. As with so many aspects of nature, this process of change is observable within our selves as well as in the outside world. It is the witnessing of the fact that all phenomena are anicca (impermanent) in nature, and therefore subject to constant change. They have a flux in their very being.

‘The wind of change’ in meditation is often experienced as a sense of impatience, a flitting of attention from one object to another, without one willing it to do so. Just as the actual wind will build up in strength, tossing more objects around as it does, so too the mind increases in restlessness, moving from the focus of meditation to another mental formation, such as a memory or an internal image. The trick is to bring attention back to the original mental object, such as the breath in anapanasati (mindful breathing) meditation. This training of the mind to concentrate has several benefits, the most obvious of which is an increased ability to focus on things more intently, being able to carry out tasks with more accuracy. A second result of an attentive mind is the peace that can result from a stable mental condition, rather like a nice cool day, where there’s neither a disruptive wind nor the dampening effect of rain. Thirdly, a focused mind forms the base from which the true nature of this life can be explored, starting with the recognition of the impermanent nature of everything.

So, we’re back where we started, with the ‘winds of change’ that exist both in the world that we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell, and in the mind with which we perceive the universe. No thing lasts forever, whether it be a stormy wind, a downpour, or a lack of attention, a memory, or a bad mood. And this can be a positive thing to contemplate, for when we’re in a situation we don’t want to be in, say in the middle of a rainstorm, it’s good to know that it will eventually stop. It’s all uncertain, all subject to change.

The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.