During meditation and contemplation in general, I tend to consider the nature of the experience I am having and what sensations and thoughts come and go. Over time, as I’ve meditated more and more, I’ve learned to slowly separate myself from the experiences and be a “witness” to them. Not perfectly, mind you – and I dare say no one on this planet has that down perfectly – but it’s an ongoing process that has helped me remain calm, in focus and serene in a very unattached way that is very hard to describe as it must be experienced.
It’s akin to noticing someone walk by you, and they wear something that may stand out, like a woman in a white dress among a sea of black suits. You notice it, and then go about your day and move on, only to notice the next sensory data that piques your interest. It’s that, but with the flow of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. There’s a noticeable “quality” to all of it that arises, and then moves away, like a shoreline on the beach.
The problem, however, arises when we cling to the sensations that come on in. When you notice the woman in the white dress and cling to the experience, it begins to distract and cause a certain type of misery in you. You want to experience it again, or conversely if it’s a painful experience, you want to avoid ever having to deal with that again. I’m quite certain that everyone reading this has at some point had a thought that lead them to another thought of “oh God, why on Earth did I think that?“, which then leads to a spiraling maze of thoughts and worry. That’s the clinging.
This is the idea of attachment to desires, including the desire to avoid pain. As I had written in my previous post, the sensations of pleasure and pain aren’t good or bad – they just are, and pursuing and avoiding them respectively leads to dissatisfaction and a craving for more. It becomes an addictive cycle that never ends.
Now here’s the thing – desire is a natural thing and it’s good. At no point do I consider it bad. It is quite literally what keeps you alive, as without it you’d be a potato that eventually rots from doing nothing. But again, it is when we cling to experiences that we have, and the natural impermanence of those experiences, that creates that problem of dissatisfaction and feeling of things “never being enough”.
The key here is to maintain a sense of presence in the now and focus on whatever goals you have created, without clinging to a desired outcome. Outcome dependency is a recipe for disaster as it erodes the inherent joy in being alive and doing things, while rumination over past experiences and clinging to the avoidance and dependence on certain ones leads to a vicious cycle of reaching out to sensations that cannot be permanently sustained. Happiness is a pleasurable feeling, but happiness as an emotion, like any other emotion, comes and goes like that shoreline – and clinging to that pleasurable feeling creates a sense of dissatisfaction that you strive to pacify with more feelings of that pleasure. Conversely, sadness is an uncomfortable feeling as a whole, but clinging to the avoidance of it leads to repression and, like a pressure bomb, eventually goes off in a big, and far nastier way.
The paradox behind allowing the sensations to come and go and not clinging to them ends up making you a calm and happy person. It’s just that, the moment you begin to cling and hang onto those sensations, you lose it. Sensory input and experiences are impermanent by their very nature, and understanding that is an important facet to freeing yourself from unnecessary stress. Once you become a witness to your internal world rather than believing that all those sensations are you, then you can become objective about it all. You begin to notice sensations just as they are and not as you want to see them. You notice the feeling of happiness, accept it, and keep on going about your day, indifferent to whether that feeling remains or not. Likewise, when fear or pain arises, you accept it as it is, understand it, and carry on with life. That’s largely what “going with the flow” is all about, too. Have you noticed that when you are focused on doing something you enjoy or are simply being in the moment, you’re feeling rather serene? That’s basically it. It’s just that when you cling to the noticing of it, you lose it.
It’s a pursuit of living and being alive, rather than a pursuit of an emotion – and through that, a new form of serenity arises in you that gives you the capability to withstand anything. The only way to verify any of this is purely ostensive – it needs to be experienced by yourself to be understood, so perhaps consider meditating sometime and just paying attention to the sensations, without judging or grabbing onto them. Maybe you’ll get what I’m saying!
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