When you deny the reality of life, you appreciate it less. Meditate on the Buddha’s Five Remembrances and rediscover the magic of life just as it is.
At a past lecture, I led a group of interfaith seminarians in the contemplation of the Five Remembrances, Buddha’s teaching on impermanence, aging, health, change, and death. Afterward, one of the students asked, “Isn’t this just negative thinking?” On the contrary, the Five Remembrances is what the Buddha offers to awaken you from denial, to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for the life you’ve been given, and to teach you about nonattachment and equanimity.
If you think of it this way, the meditation is not a bleak, depressing list of things you’ll lose, but a reminder of the wonder and miracle of life as it is—perfect and whole, lacking nothing. When you accept impermanence as more than a philosophical concept, you can see the truth of it as it manifests itself in your mind, your body, your environment, and your relationships, and you no longer take anything for granted.
Once you accept the reality of impermanence, you begin to realize that grasping and clinging are suffering, as well as the causes of suffering, and with that realization you can let go and celebrate life. The problem is not that things change, but that you try to live as if they don’t.
FREE YOUR MIND
To work with the Five Remembrances (see chart, end of article), it helps to memorize and repeat them daily. Say them slowly and let the words seep in, without analyzing or interpreting them or your experience. Just notice your reactions. Let them rest until they shift and pass away—as all things do, being impermanent. Stay with your breath and observe the sensations under all your thinking. You may experience huge relief as the energy you’ve spent denying and hiding from the truth is liberated to move freely through your body.
Some remembrances are easier to accept than others. For me, it’s easier to consider that I’m growing older and will die, than it is that I have the potential for ill health. I have a strong constitution and am rarely ill; I always believed that if my practice were “good” enough, I wouldn’t get sick. So, on those rare days when I was ill, I often reproached myself for being sick and was a pretty cranky person to be around. But with the help of the Second Remembrance, I’m more accepting of illness and can now feel a profound sense of ease and even gratitude (for my usual good health) beneath it.