Tag Archives: impermanence

Stuck in a Moment

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Man Sitting In Valley

A recent blog post by Wray Herbert describes sunk-cost bias as “the tendency to persist with an endeavor once we’ve made an investment of money or time or effort.” He paints it in a negative light, calling it an “irrational” behavior.

I get what he’s talking about. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put up with an unhappy situation as if there were no alternative. Part hopelessness, part fear of change (even if just about any change would be an improvement), part stubbornness (“No one’s going to make me do something against my will…”).

This may be an instance of painting with too broad a brush, though. Sometimes, even when we are suffering and a situation is far less than ideal, there are good reasons for remaining right where we are, continuing to do the exact same thing. We may know that things will get better soon. We may believe that the intolerable situation we’re experiencing is worth it to achieve a goal we consider important.

I’ll give you an example. My first marriage, for all practical purposes, was over after about a dozen years. It would be 18 years, though, before we divorced. Some of those intervening years were among the most painful of my life. If I had physically left the marriage after 12 years, though, I never would have experienced the final three years. During that time, we attended marriage counseling, where we discovered that, ultimately, we did not wish to save the marriage. In the process, though, we worked out most of the issues that had undermined our marriage. Consequently, as we worked through the particulars of the divorce and chafed at the shackles of trying to sell our home in the wake of the 2008 housing market collapse, we rediscovered the friendship that had brought us together in the first place. We also gave our daughter a lasting image of her parents as friends, rather than as mortal enemies and screaming lunatics. Tough as those years were, I wouldn’t go back and redo any of them.

Mr. Herbert points to mindfulness as the solution to the inertia of sunk-cost bias. I’d amplify that notion, though, to say that mindfulness allows us to discriminate between the moments when we are being irrationally anchored to a painful experience and the times when the best course is to stay put. Sticking out an unpleasant situation is not always inexplicable; it is sometimes the right thing for us and those around us.

The teachings I have received as a Buddhist also remind me that change is always occurring – in fact, change is an immutable part of existence. Which means that no situation is permanent, no specific form of suffering unending.

In dire times I remember the words of a Sufi poet, “This too shall pass,” as well as those of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And then a song by U2, “Stuck in a Moment,” starts playing in my head. I sing along and the present situation seems less dark, less inevitable.

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you. Ooh.
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
‘Cause tears are going nowhere baby

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it

I will not forsake the colors that you bring
The nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I listen through your ears
Through your eyes I can see

You are such a fool to worry like you do.. Oh
I know it’s tough and you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now
My, oh my

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it
Oh love, look at you now
You’ve got yourself stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it
Oh lord look at you now
You’ve got yourself stuck in a moment  and you cant get out of it

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm ’til you discover how deep
I wasn’t jumping, for me it was a fall
It’s a long way down to nothing at all

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony pass

It’s just a moment
This time will pass

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Can mindfulness and tangible rewards coexist?

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As mindfulness practice becomes more and more “mainstream,” it is being linked more often with various kinds of tangible rewards, like better jobs, higher pay, sexier partners, etc. It excites me that more people are becoming aware of mindfulness practice and meditation, but I worry that the push to popularize them comes at the cost of watering them down or, worse, rendering them impotent. In a recent Huffington Post column, Soren Gordhamer asked the question, “Mindfulness: What’s In It for Me?” and does a far better job than I could in highlighting this trend.

But, of course, I can’t help but chime in. I’m funny that way. In my view, mindfulness itself is the reward of being mindful. It is an awareness of yourself, your surroundings, and the beings around you to whom you are connected that makes you feel more alive. It is a kind of wakefulness that leaves you wondering if you were slogging through life half-asleep until now. Rooted in the present moment, life appears more vibrant and our connection to it more powerful. Does there really need to be some other enticement waiting on the other side of mindfulness to make one want to practice it?

Beneficial things may come to you as a result of being more mindful of the here and now, but those things cannot be the goal. Because the moment you start to think about what may be, you are no longer focused on what is. In other words, you’re no longer mindful, no longer present. That thought suggests that, if you practice mindfulness with the intention of garnering a prize, you cannot possibly achieve mindfulness to any great degree. In other words, the desire to obtain a reward by practicing mindfulness guarantees you will not get that reward. That strikes me a mighty sobering.

Change – get used to it

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“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” ~ The Buddha

Natural occurrences of order are fascinating, like the way Fibonacci sequences appear in sunflowers and nautilus shells. Not only are such occurrences beautiful to look at, they are oddly comforting—evidence that life isn’t totally random and unpredictable. I think they grab our attention in part because so much of life is, in fact, disordered—if not chaotic.

But let’s not confuse these oases of orderliness with the swirling maelstrom of everyday life. If predictability in life becomes our aim, our expectation, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and ultimately suffering. For life is motion—it is dynamic, it is constant change. Moments of calm and order can be enjoyed and appreciated for the respites they are. But, like the eye of the hurricane, they are ever-so-brief interludes in the midst of the storm.

Our expectation, if we must have one, should be change, surprises, the unexpected. Because much of our disappointment and suffering derives from just the fact that things have changed, and not even what the new circumstances are. Even changes for the better can be sources of suffering because of our intolerance for and aversion to change. Grasping for a particular time, a specific set of circumstances that no longer exists, is full of pain. Accepting impermanence, the inevitability of change, is the balm for that pain.