Month: May 2017

41 – Life on the Buddhist Path


In this episode, I’ll talk about the Buddhist path that leads to enlightenment. What does it mean to be “on the Buddhist path”? This path is commonly referred to as the Eightfold path and it consists of trying to develop skillfulness in 8 key areas of life: understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcribing service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 41. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today, I’m talking about life on the Buddhist path.

Today, I want to talk a little bit about what it means to be a Buddhist especially in the secular sense, what is life on the Buddhist path? As a listener, you might be someone who’s interested in deepening your mindfulness practice. Is there a process by which one becomes a Buddhist and what does that even mean? How does this apply to a secular Buddhist path?

If that’s you, a listener who wants to take that next step, this podcast episode we’ll discuss a little bit about what life on the Buddhist path entails? In most Buddhist traditions, there is a process by which one becomes an adherent to this path or this way of life. I want to address that a little bit specifically because I’ve recently gone through this on my own. I’ve been studying and teaching Buddhism for many years now, but I recently graduated just this weekend.

I’ve been doing a ministry program with a Japanese school of Buddhism that was based out of Chicago and now it’s in California. They have an American secularized style of Buddhism that infuses several different traditions and that’s where I’ve been studying for years now. This graduation ceremony is what allows me to officially be, I guess, you could say a Buddhist minister now which would allow me to officiate at weddings or funerals or any of the ritualistic aspects of Buddhism and I find this pretty fascinating at the intersection of approaching Buddhism from a secular lens because Buddhism itself is already so secular in nature.

It’s a non-Theistic tradition and yet there are rituals and aspects of it that can feel quite religious. I wanted to address that a little bit with regards to this topic of what is life like on this Buddhist path, on the secular Buddhist path. Remember as I mentioned with every podcast, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, just use it to be a better whatever you already are. For some people, their spiritual path that they’re interested in is the Buddhist path, the secular Buddhist path.

Taking Refuge
I want to talk about that a little bit today. In typical traditions with typical schools of Buddhism, the process by which one would become a “Buddhist” and I’m using air quotes here when I say that is that you take refuge. It’s called taking refuge and you take refuge in three things. You take refuge on the Buddha, and the Dharma, and in the Sangha. I want to explain that a little bit, but first of all let’s just look at this word, refuge for a second because refuge is like safety or comfort or another word that I think does a good job of explaining this idea of refuge is anchoring ourselves, an anchor.

What we’re anchoring ourselves to are values and I think this is an important thing because in the Buddhist tradition, it’s values that we’re trying to anchor to not necessarily beliefs. Buddhism is not a dogmatic religion or spiritual path or at least shouldn’t be. To take refuge in the Buddha for example what that means I have mentioned in previous podcast, the podcast on enlightenment that the word Buddha means awakened one. What we’re taking refuge in is in this idea of wisdom into the possibility … I anchor myself to the possibility of being awake, of being awakened myself.

For me, this means essentially I value wisdom. Wisdom is one of my values. I anchor myself to the wisdom that others have taught people like the Buddha and people who continue to teach even to this day. Wise individuals who have found freedom amidst suffering, that’s what I value. The wisdom is a value that I want to anchor myself to so when I take refuge, to say I take refuge in the Buddha, that’s what that means that the wisdom is a value. I want to anchor myself to it and this anchor reminds me that waking up is a very real possibility that I can have freedom from my habitual reactivity which can be the source of so much of my suffering.

Taking refuge or it’s like anchoring ourselves in wisdom. That’s how I would describe that first step. Taking refuge in the Buddha is anchoring myself in wisdom. Step two, you say I take refuge in the Dharma and the Dharma are the teaching … It’s the teachings of the Buddha. To me essentially this means perspective. The teachings give us a perspective on life, on reality that we didn’t have before.

I anchor myself to the teachings that will help me to understand the nature of suffering, the nature of impermanence that things always change. The nature of interdependence that everything depends on everything else, that a flower isn’t just a flower. A flower is also interdependent with the sun and the clouds and everything else. I’ve talked about that. I strive to see reality through these lenses. These lenses of impermanence and interdependence.

This is the anchor, the anchor of perspective that reminds me that I need to take a look at the way that I’m seeing things. In fact, it reminds me of how important of my perspective is, perhaps more so than what it is I’m seeing is the recognition of how I’m seeing things. It’s on me. It’s like turning inward, looking at that mirror. Taking refuge in the dharma is that I’m anchoring myself in the teachings about impermanence and interdependence. It’s a perspective shift.

Then the third one is you take refuge in the Sangha and what that means it’s friendship and support. I anchor myself to the companionship and the support that I need in order to be a better whatever I already am. There’s a phrase in the Dhammapada that says,

“If you find a wise person who points out your faults and corrects you, you should follow that person as a sage as you would a revealer of treasures.”

I really like that sentiment and I think all of your listening to this can identify with that to have a friend, someone that you know. Maybe you know them in person, maybe you don’t but someone that you can rely on who just tells you as it is, not in a mean way but in a genuine way they help you or they inspire you to be a better version of who you are. We all have someone like that. Then that’s what this whole part of the refuge is that I want to be with other like-minded individuals who are aspiring to be better versions of themselves.
That’s my community and I’m going to take refuge in that. I’m going to anchor myself in this community of people who inspire me to be a better version of what I already am. Those are the three refuges. Essentially what it takes to become a Buddhist in most schools is you just say those three things, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma and I take refuge in the Sangha.”
I wanted to explain that because I think more important than saying it is recognizing what does it mean? You don’t have to say it, it’s just something in your mind that you recognize. I’m going to anchor myself, take refuge in wisdom. I’m going to take refuge in knowledge, learning, understanding, perspective and I’m going to take refuge in friendship and support. Not just for the support that I need but my willingness to be a support to the others who are also on this path. That’s it. There’s really nothing else to it.
It’s not explained this way. It almost doesn’t even seem like it’s a religious thing at all. It almost seems like that’s common sense. Who wouldn’t want to be on that path? That’s how I view it. It’s like, “Well, yeah. I think a lot of people are on this path without even realizing that they’re on this path.” They already value the knowledge and wisdom that comes from people who are wise and not just religiously or spiritually but it could be people who contribute to wisdom in our world.
People who spread those teachings. I think you get the point. That’s really what it means. I anchor myself in wisdom, I anchor myself in perspective and I anchor myself in friendship and support. To me that’s essentially what it means to be a Buddhist especially a secular Buddhist. Those are the three things. Now, very common in Buddhism is the teaching of the eightfold path. What that means, these are the eight areas in your life that once you decide this is the path I want to be on, the path that leads to more wisdom and more compassion, now what? What should I focus on?

The Eightfold Path

That’s where the rest of this conversation will go because the eightfold path is the traditional path that a Buddhist … (I’m reluctant to even say a Buddhist but someone who’s aspiring to wake up). Maybe we’ll call it that. Someone who’s aspiring to be a better whatever they already are. These eight areas are important areas in your life that you would be able to focus on and work with to accomplish that. Accomplish being a better whatever you already are.
Let’s talk about these eight areas. The eightfold path consists of these eight areas like I mentioned and they are understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. These are referred to as the eightfold path. This is why the simple of Buddhism is a wheel with eight spokes. This is what it’s referring to but it’s important to understand that this isn’t a moral code to be followed. It’s a guide. It’s meant to be a guide for specific areas in my life where I can experience and discover the nature of reality for me, from my perspective.
Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story in his book, Old Pathway Clouds where the Buddha says, “I need to stay very clearly that my teaching is a method to experience reality but it’s not reality itself. Just in the same way that a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself.” The eightfold path is to be seen like that, it’s a guide. Consider that standpoint. Then it’s common that you can take these eight areas and you can divide those even further into three groups.
The moral disciplined group which would wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood, some traditions will translate this as right speech, right action, right livelihood. I like to use “wise”. Another word that also translates well for the original pali, that‘s used is skillful. You could do skillful speech, skillful actions, skillful livelihood. I got sidetracked for a second. Group one was the moral discipline group. Group two is the concentration group. These are wise effort, wise mindfulness, wise concentration and then there’s the wisdom group which is wise view and wise intention.
Another way to think of these three categories is that three of these are training me to have a higher, moral discipline. The other group, these are trainings in the higher form of consciousness, a higher state of consciousness. Then the third group is a training in higher wisdom, increased wisdom. Let’s just go through these one at a time. The first one and in my opinion, the most important one in this group of higher wisdom as wise understanding or wise view. Sometimes these are used interchangeably.

Wise View / Skillful View

Understanding or view is essentially the recognition that the way I see something may not be the way it actually is. It’s recognizing that it’s just the way that I see it. I can’t get past that. My reality is influenced by the way that I perceive things. This is like walking into a barn at night and there’s a coiled hose and I think it’s a snake. In that moment, it doesn’t matter what it is, the only thing that matters is what I think it is. All of my actions, everything I’m going to do from that moment on is governed entirely by my perspective.
This is why it’s so important to have a wise view or a wise understanding of reality because reality may not be what I think it is. If I were to act immediately as if it was a snake, I’d jump or I do whatever it is I’m going to do, I’m acting at this point not based on reality but based on my perception of reality and that’s why it’s so important to at least recognize or distinguish that there are two realities. There’s what is and then there’s my story around what is.
Everything that I do in life is revolving around the story that I’ve created around reality but that’s not the same thing as reality itself. This is why this first one is so important. We want to be wise about our understanding or our view of reality. Wisdom if we were to turn that light in the barn so to speak suddenly I realize, “Oh, that wasn’t a snake, that was actually just a hose.” Now my entire set of actions from that moment forward are also changing and shifting based on a new understanding of reality that’s different from the understanding of reality that I had a few minutes ago when it was a misunderstood way of perceiving reality.
This first spoke of the wheel essentially it’s about continually seeking after wisdom to help us to learn to see the world the way that it really is. Now, you could sum this up in the two components of impermanence and interdependence. Those are the two most common ways that we misinterpret reality. We think that things are independent. There’s this and there’s that. This doesn’t rely on that. This is twisting that and realizing, “Wait, this is because of that so I cannot separate this and that.”
Again, this is the exercise with the flower. You can’t separate the flower from the bees or the flower from the sun or the flower from the clouds and the rain and the soil. You start to realize, “Wow. Everything is interdependent.” That will start to fundamentally shift one of my misperceptions about reality which is before that, I only saw things as things. There’s this and there’s that and they’re all separate.
That starts to shift and then the other huge area where that shift is in terms of impermanence where we tend to see things as permanent and our understanding with a change in perspective is we realize nothing is permanent. Everything is always changing. I can’t isolate something and make it a permanent thing because there’s no permanence there. We do that with people. We believe someone is a certain way or circumstances may seem to be a certain way. They seem really negative. Later we discover they weren’t what we thought they were. This is the whole parable of the horse and who knows what is good and what is bad. That’s totally in terms of impermanence.
Those two things really start to shift the way that we understand our understanding or view of reality. That’s that first spoke, wise understanding, wise view. We work with that through looking at impermanence and interdependence. The reason I think that’s the most important one is because once we’ve understood the nature of reality is that it’s impermanent and interdependent, it starts to change that we view reality. With this wise view, all of the other spokes become easier to understand or to implement or to practice.

Wise Intent / Skillful Intent

With that, let’s look at the second spoke of the wheel which is wise intent. Intent is everything on the Buddhist path because a lot of the things that we do in life, we’re not really aware of why we’re doing them. When it comes to trying to reduce suffering, we need to be aware of the intention that we have with regards to the things that we’re saying or doing. When our intentions stem from anger or hatred, they’re more likely to cause harm than if they’re stemming from a place of happiness or gratitude.
Because we know that our tendency is to be reactive, it can be very difficult to be mindful of the intent behind our words and actions because sometimes we’re just reacting. There’s no thought to the intent. It takes practice to learn to become aware of our intentions. In some traditions, I remember you can model your behavior after someone as an ideal. I remember the bracelets as a child that remind you, what would Jesus do or they have what would Buddha do?

What Would I Do?

The goal here is to become very familiar with the answer to the question, what would I do? What would I do? That’s really all that matters in the end, isn’t it? Why do I say the things that I say? Why am I doing the things that I’m doing? Intention is the way that we understand that? You practice by asking yourself why? As you’re reacting to things, why am I so angry right now? Why am I feeling this way? Why am I experiencing this emotion? You can do this with the positive and negative because if I’m being really kind to someone, I can ask why? Why am I being kind? You may discover, “Oh, I’m trying to be nice to them so that they’ll lend me money.”
Now, that I understand that intent, that’s not a noble action or that’s not … My intent may reveal to me that I’m increasing suffering and not reducing suffering even if I was doing on the surface what seems like a nice gesture. Maybe if I genuinely care about a person, then maybe my intent is different. You want to understand your intent. You want to be keenly aware of your intentions and if the whole point of this is that we’re trying to become liberated or free from our habitual reactivity then it’s vitally important to understand our intentions or to at least be aware of our intentions.
That’s how you can decide if you need to create new intentions or perhaps let go of old intentions or it’s when you understand your intent that you can be more at peace with why you do the things that you do because you know it’s not out of a reactive habit that you may not be aware of. That’s where intent comes in and intent will play a role with everything else from here moving forward. For example, so those are the two spokes under wisdom. The next spokes, the next three spokes are in this genre of moral discipline.
You’ll see how intent comes into play here because the first one is wise speech. We’re talking about communication speech. It’s not just talking, it’s the way we communicate with ourselves and with others because communication is an essential part of creating a peaceful and harmonious life both for ourselves and others because we’re social creatures and communication is perhaps the most important part of our human relations.

Wise Speech / Skillful Speech

Wise speech is learning to communicate with others in a way that minimizes harm or that doesn’t cause harm or that doesn’t cause harm. Like I said, this isn’t just speech, this is writing, texting emailing, Facebook’ing, whatever form of communication you’ve got going on because lying, gossiping, insulting, that’s not wise speech, those I think are obvious. They don’t minimize suffering but on the flip side of that, it’s important to understand that neither are compliments that you don’t mean. That’s also not wise speech or promises you don’t intend to keep that would not also be wise speech.
Sucking up to someone that you’re trying to impress because you’re trying to get something out of them. Those would be examples of unwise or unskillful speech. This is where intent comes into play because I may do that without knowing that that’s what I’m doing but once I have a thorough understand of my intent, now I can catch, “Oh, that’s actually not very effective speech.” It may be causing more harm even though I’m saying something nice to someone because I know the intent behind it.
Wise speech, considers why you say something on equal grounds as what it is that you say. It’s not just what you say, it’s why are you saying what you’re saying. Wise speech does not always have to be pleasant. It’s not about just being nice. It’s not about withholding ideas or opinions because you don’t want someone to disagree with you or to feel upset because you have a different view from them. The important part here is that it’s always sincere, it’s always genuine. It’s like the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism.
I think we all know what that’s like. We all know the difference between the two. Receiving criticism from someone isn’t a problem but sometimes it’s the intent behind it that bothers us. Are we trying to cause harm, cause pain or are we trying to be genuine and authentic and expressing something. That’s the difference here with wise speech.

Wise Action / Skillful Action

The next one is wise action and this is another spoke here, wise action is essentially a conduct that’s proper and necessary for whatever situation you’re in. For example, here’s another scenario with wise action correlated to intent and correlated to speech. I imagine during the Second World War when there were families that were hiding Jews in their home, if the Nazis come knocking like, “Hey, do you know where the neighbors went?” It would be wise speech to say, “No. I don’t know where they are,” even though that’s a lie.
A wise action could be hiding them in your house even though you know maybe that was against the law if they had made a law about that or whatever. You get the idea of what I’m saying here. Wise action sometimes includes the sense of doing the right thing in a moral sense. It closely resembles the guideline for behaving appropriately according to the situation and the context. Again, this is why it’s going to be super important to understand what is my intent and what is my view. How do I view the world?
Someone without wise or skillful view or understanding of reality may think that they’re living according to wise action when they’re not. What they’re doing actually isn’t wise. You can see that. We don’t want this to be a set moral code because the problem with that is that morals change and they evolve overtime based on time and based on place, society, where you live.
If we just adhere to the moral code of some place in time, that may not be the wisest form of action for our specific time and our specific place. This is an expression that says, morality is doing what’s right regardless of what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told regardless of what’s right. To me that sums up this idea of wise action. We want to do what’s right more than just do what we’re told. Those are two different things.
Wise understanding, wise thinking, wise speech all the previous ones we’ve talked about will give rise to wise action where your wisdom leads you to behave fittingly in any scenario that you might be in. Wise action is not a set of rules to be followed to the letter. That’s why in Buddhism, there’s not like the 10 commandments or there’s nothing like that because those are just wise action. What is wise action? Guess what, you have to figure that out.
It’s not appropriate for me to say…what might be wise action for me may not be wise action for you because it depends on place and time as well. As we know from the story of the parable of the horse who knows what is good and what is bad, we know that right and wrong are often subjective especially in different societies and different time periods so what may be acceptable in one society or one time in history is often unacceptable in another time and another place.
Imagine those times when people finally figure it out and realize, “Oh, slavery isn’t okay.” Maybe it seemed like it was for a long time but then consciousness elevates, awareness elevates, new perspective shift and that’s why you’re always working with this, it’s not a static thing. Suddenly somebody, somewhere realize, “Hey, this isn’t right. We shouldn’t be doing this. This is not wise action. If it were stagnant, if it were a static thing, a set of rules, that gets really complicated because life isn’t stagnant, life isn’t fixed, life is continually changing and evolving therefore wise action should not be an absolute thing. It shouldn’t be a set moral code, like a set of commandments.
You’re going to want to … Life on this path entails wise action that will arise naturally out of having wise understanding or wise view, wise speech, wise intent. I hope that makes sense how those start to correlate.

Wise Livelihood / Skillful Livelihood

The next one we’ll look at is wise livelihood. This is the one that addresses what we do for a living, how do we make a living, how do we interact with others while on the job because we need to determine for ourselves if what we do for a living is causing more harm or more good for ourselves and others.
Again, this is a very personal thing that arises naturally out of having a wise view and a wise intent. If I understand my intent and I understand the way that I perceive the world, it starts to give me the ability to decide is what I’m doing … Is this the type of job or career that I want to have where I feel like it’s improving. Am I helping myself and others to be better, whatever they already are or am I not?
Some things are obvious, like being a hired hit man. It’s very obvious that that would not be wise livelihood because you’re causing more harm than you are good for yourselves and others. It does require that balance between what’s good for you and what’s good for others or for the environment or you can start to see how complex this can become. There’s another aspect to all is it also includes how we interact with the people that we work with, customers, coworkers, things like that.
Again if I’m embezzling funds from my employers, stealing food from the fridge at work, those are examples of unwise livelihood even someone who’s trying to do good like a doctor, they may be doing good but they’re at the same time causing harm because maybe they’re taking bribes from a pharmaceutical company to prescribe a certain type of medicine over another one knowing that this one wouldn’t be as effective as the other one but I get paid more if I prescribe this one. There is another example of wise livelihood.
That’s also another example of where intent is really important. I need to understand why am I doing this? Is it just for the money? What is the intent behind the action, behind the livelihood? At the end of all this, ultimately it’s just up to us to make the judgment call regarding the way that we make a living. You make your living, you know why you do it? It’s a good idea to incorporate wise intent in this process. Maybe you can ask yourself why am I doing what I’m doing?
I’ve had to do this in my own life. I remember one specific job where I was really uncomfortable with the type of work that I did because we sold supplements and it was a deceptive form of marketing where some of you may be familiar with this tactic where you sign up for a free trial of these pills and then you think it’s free but a month later they start billing you and they make it really difficult for you to cancel that automated bill.
I work for a company that did that and I had to ask myself, why am I doing what I’m doing? Am I comfortable with this? I was always uncomfortable knowing people were trying really hard to figure out how to cancel these ongoing bills and it was a widespread practice at the time but at the end of the day, I decided that wasn’t a career I wanted to be in. It wasn’t a type of work I wanted to be involved with because I felt that for me personally I was uncomfortable knowing the harm that it was causing on others, the inconvenience it was causing others to have to put up with the job that I was performing.
In ended up leaving that job. I found another job where I didn’t have conflicting feelings around my livelihood. That’s the idea behind why is livelihood. With those, that deals with the training and higher moral discipline with speech, action and livelihood. Again, you see how important it is that those are correlated with an understanding of what my intent is, wise intent.
That leads us to the last three spokes of the wheel. These are the training and higher consciousness or higher awareness and you can start to see how they all start to feed on each other because the better I am at having effort that effort may be what helps me to understand my intent and that intent helps me to be introspective and understand that maybe what I’m doing for work isn’t what I want to do for work. You can start to see how they rely on each other.

Wise Effort / Skillful Effort

The next one is wise effort. This is essentially what it takes to put into practice all the other parts of the path. This is the effort on our part if we want to experience any kind of positive change in our lives. It’s going to require effort whether it’s to learn a new skill. I want to learn music for example. I’ve got to learn to read music or sports. It takes a lot of practicing business skills. I might have to go to school.
Whatever it is I’m trying to do, there’s effort required to do it. We can usually look at ourselves and recognize if we’re going to give the proper amount of effort or not, we can decide that before we go into something. Without effort, there’s usually very little or no progress. Our effort affects everything that we do in the world. You’ll know this if you’ve ever tried to accomplish any kind of goal and you failed for example, a common one for a lot of us, around new years as we decide we’re going to start going to the gym and we’re going to get in shape.
The reason that we don’t that a lot of us don’t and I put myself in there because this happens over and over. What I realize is here’s a lack of effort. What else could it be? Effort is what plays a part in that. For me, I’ve tried to learn to play the guitar for almost 10 years and I’ve never really done a good job with it because it’s the effort to how to be put in to do it. That’s where I struggle.
The key to accomplishing a goal is directly connected to the effort that you put in to what it takes to accomplish it. I know that I’ve put time and effort in the other things I wanted to do and that worked out really well for me. It took a lot of effort to start putting this podcast together. That hasn’t been a big problem. You can start to see where and how much effort are you putting into the things that really matter in your life. This is especially important when you’re looking at relationships, jobs, hobbies, lots of other things but relationships.
Do you put the effort in required to maintain the relationship with your loved one or with your spouse or significant other, with parents, with siblings? A wise effort is about prioritizing our effort and all of the things that we do because there are a lot of things we want to do in life and we need to prioritize and decide where does the effort go? Where am I going to dedicate time to make sure that I accomplish what I’m trying to accomplish?
Now, with Buddhism, we talk about this that we’re trying to become a “better whatever we already are.” We’re trying to be improved and be better at how we live to be less reactive. To be less reactive isn’t going to happen because I just decide, “Okay. I don’t want to be reactive anymore.” It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I’m going to be reactive and one of the first things I’ll be reactive to is reacting to the fact that I cannot be reactive.
Now, I’m mad on two layers or levels because I don’t want too reactive anymore so now when I am reactive, now I’m mad that I got reactive because I already know that I don’t want to be reactive. You can see without effort, there’s no form of awakening or enlightenment or liberation from habitual reactivity. It doesn’t happen without effort. It’s the effort that this specific spoke is relying on am I going to put time into meditating? Am I going to put time into reading more books to understand these concepts? Am I going to put the effort it requires to seek podcast episodes that continually push me towards a better whatever I already am? That’s effort. That’s where effort comes in.

Wise Mindfulness / Skillful Mindfulness

After effort, we’ve got mindfulness. Again, you see all of these start layering on each other. Wise mindfulness is about being aware. It’s about paying attention. Now, being mindful helps us to stay anchored in the present moment because typically we’re not in the present moment. We’re either regretting something in the past, anxious about something in the future, but to be mindful, it’s practice because it does indeed require practice which is going to require effort to be more mindful.
We’ve all experienced the scenario of driving somewhere only to realize that you weren’t really paying attention. You finally get there and you don’t realize how you got there or you miss a turn. You’re driving on the freeway, you’re on the phone and you realize, “Oh, crap. That was my exit. That idea of being zoned out or distracted, we do this a lot in a lot of areas of life.” It’s not just while we’re driving. That’s an area where we notice it but that’s not the only time it happens.
When we’re not mindful, we’re not aware, we’re missing things that might be happening right in front of our eyes. I think of this a lot as a parent, mindless parenting. I don’t want to look back and think, “Oh, man. I missed that phase with my kids when they were this age or that age or doing this or doing that.” Not because of intent or because of effort, it might have entirely to do with the fact that I wasn’t mindful. I just wasn’t aware.
I think this becomes really helpful when we think about this in the context of time. We’re constantly stuck in the past of the future like I said. That makes it really difficult to be mindful of what’s happening in the present. Wise mindfulness is about learning to anchor ourselves in the present moment. It connects very closely with meditation with effort because we want to be mindful. We want to be aware of the things that were not even aware that we’re not aware of.
Again, that doesn’t happen just because. It’s like, “Okay. I want to be mindful. That’s great and sentiment but what am I going to do about that?” That’s how mindfulness correlates with all these others which leads us to the last spoke of this wheel. This is concentration and this is the practice of focusing the mind on one thing. If I want to be mindful or aware, it’s going to require the ability to at least concentrate. To concentrate on what it is I’m trying to do in that specific moment. This is where meditation comes in. This is the great tool that we used to practice concentration.

I know we typically think of meditation as someone sitting with their legs crossed on the floor and their eyes closed but it can be so much more than that. It can be the concentration that we put in to washing the dishes or when we’re walking. We’re just walking when we’re doing anything. A really common one that I noticed in my own life is when I’m eating, a lot of times I’m not really eating, I’m eating and I’m looking at my phone. I am checking up what’s on Facebook, I’m reading the news, checking emails and then you’re done eating.
If someone were to ask me detailed questions about my meal, I wouldn’t really know. This is a lack of my ability to concentrate so concentration is when we’re doing something we’re just doing that thing and there a Zen story about this with an enlightened person. When they eat, they eat and they walk, they walk. I say, “Yeah, anyone can do that.” The difference is when you’re awake and someone who’s awakened when they walk, they just walk. They just walk because that’s what they’re doing.
When they’re eating, they’re just eating. I think that’s when we can all correlate to our own eating habits. I don’t know about you but anytime I go somewhere to eat, if I look around, more than half usually at 3/4 of the people there, they’re just on their phone. When was the last time that you actually ate and just ate. That was your whole goal, “I’m only eating.” I’m concentrating when I’m eating. I’m paying attention to what this taste like, what this is feel like in my mouth, all the experiences of eating.
Alan Watts says you can make any human activity into meditation by simply being completely with it and doing it just to do it. I would challenge you to try next time you go eat somewhere, try eating meditation where you’re just eating and that’s all you’re doing. You’re not doing anything else. That’s concentration and the opposite of concentration would be distraction. I just think about distraction as the opposite because we all know what that’s like. We live in a society in a culture that’s constantly bombarded with opportunities for distraction whether it’s the chime on your phone or the billboard on the street or the commercials, what TV, text email, whatever it is and we’ve got thousands of distractions that are all competing for our attention virtually anywhere you look at any given time of the day.

Wise Concentration / Skillful Concentration
Distraction prevent us from seeing life as it really is because we don’t know. We’re seeing all kinds of other things. Distraction prevents us from understanding the truth about ourselves and others. This is what we’re trying to accomplish with wise concentration is to have the skill and the ability to be with something for a moment, to concentrate on when an emotion arises for me and I’m sitting here and I’m upset.
Am I trying to distract myself out of it? Don’t be upset, turn on the TV. It’s like that’s a distraction and distractions can be fine but here’s what I’ll never know if I constantly react to my emotions in a way like that. I’ll never be able to sit with an emotion and say why am I upset? I’m sitting here and I’m upset. Why? Imagine being able to sit with your emotion, to concentrate on it. You may gain insight out of that. That’s the whole purpose of this with concentration. What can I discover that I didn’t know that I didn’t know?
Those are the eight spokes of the wheel, the eightfold path. If you were to enter this, think, “This is a way of life I want to live. I want to practice Buddhism as a philosophical way of living.” What does that entail? It’s essentially this, these eight areas. These eight areas that you’re going to strive to be more aware of to be skillful with in your life and they are understanding or view. How do I view the world? How do I understand reality? Am I skillful in the way that I understand what’s unfolding right now in front of me or am I not skillful with that?
Next is intention. Do I understand my intentions? Then it goes into speech, action and livelihood and from there we’ve got effort, mindfulness and concentration. Those are the eight areas that make up the eightfold path. As I mention, this is a path that you’re constantly working on right. It’s not like a linear thing that you think I’ve got to master this before that one makes sense. You’re always working on all of them.
Sometimes you may be working a little more heavily on one spoke versus another. There’s no particular order that you need to go with although I do like to emphasize that the first spoke is the most important because with wise understanding or with wise view, the rest start to arise naturally. When I truly grasp and understand the nature of impermanence and interdependence, it changes the way that I talk to myself and others. It changes the way that I act.
It increases the desire to have more effort to be a better whatever I already am. A search to have all these ramifications, all based on the first one, the right view or the wise view. This is a path. It’s an ongoing practice that can bring about a new sense of awareness and perspective into everything that you do. I want to emphasize again this is why Buddhism is often referred to as a practice because it’s not like you get it, you’re always getting it because you’re always trying, you’re always practicing, you’re always trying to be a better whatever you already are but you never actually get it.
Just that concept itself to be a better whatever you already are, how do you win that game? You never say, “Oh, I did it. Now I’m the best whatever I already was.” It’s not about that. It’s about being better. Whatever you are, now be better and you finally get there. Will not be better, but you never get there. You’re always practicing to be a better whatever you already are and you accomplish that by keeping in mind these eight areas of your life that you want to focus on.
Maybe you can write them down. I like to have a little visual representation of the eightfold path with the eight spokes on the wheel and each spoke is the word written out and it reminds me these are eight areas that I am committed to being better at in my life. Maybe not even being better at but if anything understanding these. I want to understand these eight areas in my life because the simple act of understanding them already makes me better at them. View this as a guideline for the specific areas where you want to focus on in your life to help you become a better you. That’s it. It’s that simple.
There’s nothing to believe in, there’s no set of commandments. It’s not like you have to be … Nobody says you have to be … You have to have intent. It’s not that. I just want to understand my intent, why do I do the things that I do. It’s not about saying, “Do this. Don’t do that.” It’s just saying, “Whatever it is you’re doing, know yourself. Why are you doing it? Why do you do that?” At the end of the day, it empowers you to know what would I do? What would I do? That’s what we’re striving for here. That’s what combats this instinct to just be habitual, to just habitually react and I don’t even know why I’m reacting.
I’ve got these eight areas in my life that I’m committed to and dedicated to trying to be a better whatever I already am and they all start with that first commitment that I make to be on this path to take in refuge. The commitment I’ve made to understand what my values are. I value wisdom, I value knowledge. I value friendship and support. I take refuge in those three aspects of my life. I have friends and family that form the backbone of that journey that I’m on.
I have books and sources that I go to learn the knowledge that I need to anchor myself and these teachings that are going to help me be a better whatever I already am. Of course there’s the first one that I anchor myself and all the great teachers that have come before me whether it be the Buddha or Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama or any other teacher.
They don’t have to be Buddhist but those are the ones that I mentioned because that’s the path I’m on but it’s not restricted. Wisdom is not confined to a specific tradition. It’s not like, “Well, wisdom is only found in Buddhism.” Wisdom is found in every tradition and it’s our job to seek it. Whatever tradition you’re in, find the wisdom, anchor yourself to it. That’s taking refuge. You can be taking refuge in the Buddha so to speak without believing in Buddha at all or being Buddhist. You could do that the moment you anchor yourself to wisdom from whatever tradition.
That in a nutshell is my explanation of life on the Buddhist path. This is the path I have chosen and most recently like I mentioned, last week have made this official for me as a Buddhist minister. I’m honored now to be in a position where I can officiate that friends or people’s weddings. I can do more with it but people have asked me, “Now what? Now, what’s going to happen? What does this mean now that you’re a minister?” It’s like it doesn’t mean anything different. This is the path that I’ve been on.
What I just explained in this podcast is a summary of life on the Buddhist path for me and that’s the path three years ago, four years ago, five years ago and today, and tomorrow but all in the context of impermanence. It’s just what it is right now. Hopefully you can get some information out of this podcast that will help you in your path to accomplish the goal of being more awake, being a better whatever you already are. That’s really the only goal. There’s nothing beyond that.
As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. Remember you can always learn more. If you’re new to these concepts, listen to the first five episodes of this podcast in order or you can find these concepts explained in my book, Secular Buddhism Eastern Thought for Western Minds which is on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Audible. You can get more information on all that on secularbuddhism.com but that’s all I’ve got for now. I’m really looking forward to recording another podcast episode soon.
Now, I have the time that I’ll be able to do this more often and thanks to the support from a lot of you listeners that’s giving me the ability to dedicate more time and resources and effort to making this a podcast that is beneficial so that every time you listen to it, you gain something out of it. I want this to be something that’s valuable and I’m also creating other resources that I’ll be able to explain later in my future podcast. That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks again for taking the time to listen and until next time.

40 – Dealing with Grief & Loss


Mindfulness is helpful during the grieving process because it allows us to acknowledge the universality of loss. It helps us to accept the inevitability of loss as a part of life. At one point or another, we will all face the loss of everything we hold dear. BONUS: Guided meditation on impermanence.

BONUS: Guided Meditation on Death & Impermanence

This is the guided meditation shared in the episode above. This clip is the guided meditation only.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcript of the podcast

Hello you are listening to the Secular Buddhism Podcast, and this is episode number 40. I am your host Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about dealing mindfully with grief and loss.
Grieving is the process of coming to terms with loss in our lives. We may experience grief for a number of different reasons. Could be the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or friendship, or the loss of a job. Other significant life changes can also lead to grief like moving to a new home or a new city, losing our deeply held convictions or beliefs, or experiencing a sudden change in our hopes and dreams.

Loss is something we seem to deal with from the moment we’re born. I’ve seen first hand the discomfort a new born seems to endure at the loss and comfort of the womb. And from that moment on life can seem like a string of losses. And while the scale and the intensity of loss can vary greatly. Say losing a loved one compared to losing a material possession. In the end the loss of anything can cause suffering. And it may require the process of grieving to help us to adjust.
Now before I jump into this topic I want to remind you of a couple of things. First, is my commonly shared quote by the Dalai Lama that says “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Regardless of which path you’re on or how far you are along that path, mindfulness can help you to be a better whatever you already are.

Second, this podcast is made possibly by the Foundation for Mindful Living. A 501C3 non profit who’s mission is to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully. If you get any value out of this podcast and if you’re in a position to be able to, please consider becoming a monthly contributor. Just two dollars a month can make a big difference. One time donations are appreciated as well. And you can make a donation by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the donate button at the top of the page.

And I want to say thank you to everyone who donates monthly to the podcast. And anyone who’s made a one time donation. Your donations are making a very big difference in the ability that I have to share this content with the world. Through workshops, through a mindfulness training program that I’m putting together, and several other resources that are in the works. All of this is being accomplished with your support and thanks to your support. So thank you very, very much.
Okay now let’s jump back into this week’s topic. I want you to take a moment and think about some of the losses you’ve experienced in your own life. Perhaps this is the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Or a meaningful friendship or relationship. This could be a material possession. Something that was lost or stolen, something that broke, think about that for a minute and see what comes to mind.

We all have losses. We’ve all experienced losses in the past. We may be experiencing loss now, or we will experience it in the future. And for the losses we experience in life, we need to grieve. And mindfulness practice can help us in this process to ensure that we grieve skillfully. Grieving is the natural healing process of coming to terms with loss in our lives. You may be familiar with the concept of the five stages of grief. As proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Gubler Ross. Her model proposes that a series of emotions are experienced by people who are dealing with loss.
These are denial, when you first learn of a loss, it may be normal to think well this can’t be happening to me. You know, you may feel shock or numb, this is a temporary way to deal with the rush of an overwhelming emotion. It’s kind of like a defense mechanism. So denial.

The next one is anger, as this reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless, and then these feelings can turn into anger. And that’s anger that may be directed towards other people, to a higher power, or to life in general.

Then we have bargaining. Bargaining, this is the stage where you kind of dwell on what you could have done to prevent the loss. And these are common thoughts like if only, or you know, what if I had done this, or had I not done that. Um, this is kind of that stage where you may even try to strike a deal with a higher power.
And then the next stage is depression. It’s the sadness that sets in as you begin to understand the loss and it’s effect on your life. And during this stage, signs of depression may include crying or sleep issues, decreased appetite, there may be a sense of feeling overwhelmed, regretful and lonely.
The final stage is acceptance. In this stage you accept the reality of your loss, you realize it can’t be changed, and although you can still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life. And because these stages are often referred to as stages, people often mistake these as a linear course that one needs to advance from one stage to the next as we come to terms with our loss.

Now in my own experience, it can be misleading or even harmful to assume that these stages are sequential or linear in any way. Well each of these emotions can be experienced throughout the grieving process. Grief rarely seems to follow any specific order or timetable. We all seem to experience grief in different ways, and while some of us may experience one or more of these specific emotions, they may not come in a specific order.

It may be that we advance from one stage to another only to come back again to where we were before. And this is kind of how I experienced it while dealing about seven years ago with the loss of trust and coping with betrayal and deception. I remember advancing through anger to what I thought was acceptance. Only to come back to anger, and then this was like a cycle that went on and on for months, even years. And for a time I genuinely thought I was crazy, ’cause every time I would feel like it was finally passed all of the emotions and I was at acceptance, it seemed like that should be the end of it. But the something would trigger a memory and I’d be back at square one.

So the mindfulness approach to grief and loss is not about trying to get through one stage to advance to the next or to try to rush through all of them. You know, to hurry and get to this acceptance and healing. It’s about applying acceptance to whatever stage we’re in. And to whatever the overall process of grief is bringing us. So through mindfulness we focus on, on removing any obstacles that might impede us from experiencing whatever the process of grief may have in store for us.
Now mindfulness is helpful during the grieving process because it allows us first to acknowledge the universality of loss. And it helps us to accept the inevitability of loss as a part of life. So at one point or another, we will all face the loss of everything we hold dear. And sometimes this happens when we’re not ready and when we’re not expecting it. And it’s resisting those losses that can cause us to suffer. Suffer beyond the pain that is already typical with loss.

So we know that all things are impermanent. We live in a world where ultimately everything that we hold dear will have to be relinquished. And Thich Nhat Hahn on this topic says it’s not impermanence that makes us suffer, what makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they’re not. And this reminds me of a story, during the Buddhist time, there was a woman named Kisa Gotami and she had married young and gave birth to a son. And one day the baby got sick and then died soon after. Kisa Gotami loved her son and she just refused to believe that her son was dead. She carried uh, his body around the village asking if there was anyone who could bring him back to life. And the villagers saw that and they saw he was already dead and that there was nothing that could be done.

So they advised her to just accept his death and make the arrangements for the funeral. But with grief you know, she fell upon her knees and she just clutched her sons body close to hers and she kept uttering for him to wake up and to wake up. And at this point a village elder took pity on her and suggested her to go consult with the Buddha. “So Kisa Gotami you know, we can’t help you, you need to go talk to the Buddha maybe he can do something to bring your son back to life.”

So Kisa Gotami was excited hearing that, and she immediately went to the Buddha’s residence and pleaded for him to help her you know, to bring her son back to life. And the Buddha said, “Well Kisa Gotami, I do have a way to bring your son back to life.” She’s like, “What is it gonna take, what do I have to do? I’ll do anything.” And the Buddha essentially says, “If that’s the case, if you’ll do anything then here’s what you need to do. Um, bring me a mustard seed taken from a house where no one residing in the house had ever lost a family member. And then you bring that seed back to me, and I’ll bring your son back to life.”

So having faith in that promise, Kisa Gotami just took off and she ran from house to house in the village trying to find this mustard seed. And at the first house she found a young woman who said “Yeah I have a mustard seed.” But then when she asked her if she had ever lost a family member the young woman said, “Yeah my grandmother died a few months ago.” So she thanked her and ran to the next house, she realized that wasn’t gonna work. And at the next house you know, she found someone who’s husband had died a few years ago. And at the next house someone who had lost an uncle, and then at the next house someone who had lost an aunt or a cousin.

And this process keeps going, she keeps going from house to house and she keeps finding the same answer, that every … Every household had some one who had lost a family member at some point. So by the Kisa Gotami finally realizes that there’s no one in the world who’s never lost a family member. So she now understood that death is inevitable, and it’s a natural part of life. And this acceptance allowed her to start working with her grief and to bury her son.

And the story of Kisa Gotami reminds us that loss is a universal experience. The Buddha’s lesson for Kisa Gotami allowed her to understand that her refusal to acknowledge the inevitability of loss was only adding to her pain. And I feel a special sympathy for her. You know as a parent myself, I’ve tried to imagine how difficult it would be to have to deal with the loss of one of my own kids.

If we know that loss and death are inevitable. Why not begin to prepare for the inevitable now. You know, why is there a cultural tendency to avoid even the thought of death. Or even the thought of losing the things that matter to us. You know remembering that all things are continually changing, we can avoid developing unhealthy attachments that may cause us to suffer. You it’s funny speaking of these attachments, just this weekend we were cleaning out our storage unit and I took a trailer load full of stuff to a donation center. And it was interesting to see certain possessions and to, you know, realize at one point how valuable that possession felt to me or how meaningful it was to me at one time. And now here I was at another time in my life just giving it away. And in the process of emptying all these totes that we had, one of the totes was labeled ‘Noah’s helicopter stuff’.

And as some of you may recall from past podcast episodes, there was a time in my life when I was in flight school training to be a helicopter pilot. It was a childhood dream that I had. And unfortunately the school that I went to back in 2008 filed bankruptcy and it was a school that had the business model where the students would pay up front for all of the training. And then, they would train you over the course of six to eight months, or twelve months. But it was running like a ponzi scheme, now none of us noticed that at the beginning. But they would have you pay up front, and then they would use that to keep recruiting more students and that’s kind of how the company ran. That lasted about ten years before the company finally went under.

And when it did, thousands of students across the country including myself we were out of flight training and out of the money that we had paid for it. So it was, it was a really difficult time. And it was one of my dreams, like I mentioned. So there was a dream that was shattered there was suffering that being being experienced, I was dealing with the grief and the loss of what seemed to be my life plan. That was my career choice.

So fast forward now almost ten years later, here I am, at this donation center looking at this tote and I open it and it had all of my flight gear. I had my headset, all of my books, my flight computer, the little thing that snaps to your leg that holds the maps of where you’re flying. It had everything. Everything that I used for flying. And it was interesting to just look at this for a moment to think how important these items were to me at one point. And here I was donating this entire tote away. Hoping some use would come out if to someone. And there was a tinge of sadness there with it, but I thought it was interesting that I had held on to these items for almost ten years. And I thought about that, you know attachment to the things that can cause us to suffer.

So, how does mindfulness help us to cope with the loss of things that we’ve become attached to? Well it’s similar to how we deal with any other emotion. Through mindfulness. You know, an emotion like anger or sadness, we simply acknowledge the emotion, we accept it, and then we let it go when it’s time to go. But there’s no need to have fear or aversion towards the grieving process. You know, we can be open to whatever grief brings. And allow ourselves to be fully with that experience. And remember like I mentioned before there’s no set time frame for this grieving process, it just has to happen on it’s own. And an important benefit of mindfulness during the grieving process is that it helps to keep us anchored in the present moment. ‘Cause the present moment is the only place where we can fully feel the pain of loss.

Now when we’re dealing with loss, it’s common to find ourselves experiencing anxiety about the future. You know, with the loss of a spouse or the loss of a job. We have legitimate concerns about how we’re going to get by. And other losses like relationships or divorce, you know these things may cause us to have concerns about our self worth. Or fear about ever finding meaningful love again. I remember with, you know with my story with the helicopter flight school. I had significant fears about well now what am I gonna do? You know? This was the career that I chose now how am I gonna pay this money that I lost. It was almost, it was $70000 that this school had taken from us. And those, you know that’s money I still pay every month. Student loans that I’ll be paying the rest of my life for something I never got.

But at the time, you know a lot of my fear and anxiety was anchored in the future, what is this? What’s gonna happen now? How am I gonna do this? You know, how am I gonna pay that back? What am I gonna do for a job? And the point is that, almost any kind of loss will cause us to wonder how we’re going to fill the void of what we’ve lost. And these are valid concerns, they need to be addressed. But we do need to know that spending too much time with our concerns about the future, can get in the way of the grieving process itself. Which requires us to momentarily set aside these concerns. And instead just be completely aware of our experience in the present moment.

This is where mindfulness meditation can be an incredible tool for coping with loss. As it provides us with the opportunity of attending to whatever experience we’re having in that present moment. And fully experiencing what we find in the present moment is an essential step for learning to think and act wisely. Now another topic that relates to this is something I brought up a few podcasts back, I talked about the art of self compassion. And how self compassion can play an important role in the grieving process. As it allows us to accept the compassion not only from ourselves but also from others. You know, sometimes when we’re going through difficult things, we need compassion but we struggle to allow others to give us that compassion because we don’t feel worthy of it. Or we feel that it’s a sign of weakness to accept compassion from others.

This is why we can work with self compassion. And compassion is one of the greatest things we can receive while we’re experiencing grief. You know, in part I think it’s because it reminds us of the universality of our suffering. Like Kisa Gotami, you know, we can be reminded that we are not alone in our experience of loss and suffering and this in turn I think eases or minimizes our sense of suffering. So dealing with our own suffering, it can be the catalyst for learning to develop compassion for others. You know, I imagine Kisa Gotomi at that point realizing with what she had gone through with the loss of her son, allowed her to feel compassion from that moment on for anyone else who was going to experience that same type of loss.
I remember feeling the same thing with my flight school. You know, thinking well now I know what that’s like to be robbed of a dream. And any time I’ve encountered that with anyone else in their life, and having you know life throw a curve ball at them that sends them in a new direction, I feel compassion for them because I know what that’s like. Same with my other experience in life with feeling betrayed or deceived. You know I can empathize with people who have gone through that. And the relationships because I know what that’s like.

So I think it allows us to develop compassion for others, our suffering can do that. And it can also be a reminder of how life truly is like a game of Tetris. Like I talk about all the time, you know. We only have the illusion of control, and yet we simply never know what piece is going to show up next. And I think experiencing loss and suffering it can be disillusioning in the sense that it helps us to get rid of the illusion that we even had control or the illusion that there’s permanence in any of this.
So if you practice developing skillful means with life’s everyday challenges, you know, it will allow you to be able to react more skillfully when losses come to you. As we all know they inevitably will. And remember loss and suffering is not personal. You’re not being singled out, it’s just that you’re experiencing life.

Now earlier in this podcast I mentioned that if we know that loss and death are inevitable. Why not begin to prepare for the inevitable now? You know, how do we prepare to deal with the loss of everything. Well have I a guided meditation that I want to share with you today in this podcast episode. And I’m also going to set this aside as a recording that can be listened to as the next podcast episode. It will just be the guided meditation, so that you can listen to it again from time to time, without having to listen to this whole episode and look you know, to the end to listen to this guided meditation.

So why don’t you take a couple of minutes right now and just follow along with this exercise. This can be a powerful technique for learning to think and ponder on the nature of impermanence. So this is a guided meditation on impermanence.
This is an ordinary moment. If you can, close your eyes and just focus on the sensation of breathing. Try to become aware of the breath. The in breath, and the out breath. And just become aware of this ordinary process that seems so natural that we rarely even think of it. And yet it’s this process of breathing that keeps us alive throughout the ordinary moments of our day.
And now imagine next to you a large platform. You’re standing next to this large platform or a stage, and it’s empty there’s nothing on it. And now I want you to imagine your favorite possessions. This could be your computer, your watch, your smartphone, maybe it’s a TV or your car. Just imagine all of your favorite stuff. And now imagine them being place on this platform or on this stage one at a time, and when they get placed there, they simply disappear. Everything that gets placed on the stage dissolves and just disappears.

Just imagine yourself for a moment seeing all of your stuff one by one being placed on there and then it’s gone. And how does that feel? Knowing all of your stuff is now gone. And now I want you to imagine all of your friends. All of your coworkers, you know, people that you know, just imagine their voices, they’re all talking to each other and they’re sharing their stories and as they do this they’re all slowly stepping on that stage in single file one by one, and as they do, they disappear. One by one until they’re all gone.

And after that I want you to imagine your family, your parents, siblings, children. I want you to imagine their voices, I want you to envision their smiles and feel the love that you have for each one of them. Just imagine them all stepping on that stage each disappearing one at a time.

And notice how now you’re standing there next to that stage and you’re all alone. How does it feel now to know your friends and family, they’re all gone. They’ve all stepped on that stage. And now I want you to picture the room where you are. Or the space where you are, your bed, your books, all of your other possessions. All of them on that stage now, and they all disappear. And you continue to scale back. Picture your neighborhood, picture your yard, the feeling of the sun on your face and the feeling of the wind on your skin. And rain, everything. Everything you see. It’s all on that stage and it all disappears.
And now as you stand there, I want you to imagine your memories, your feelings. All the knowledge that you’ve gained from the books that you’ve read and the school class that you’ve attended, every word you’ve ever heard. You’re entire vocabulary. Every song you’ve ever listened to, every sound you’ve ever heard. All being put on that stage. And it’s all disappearing.
And as each of these things goes, one by one. Now there’s just you. And it’s just you standing there. And now you walk on to that stage. And you slowly disappear. And then the stage is the only thing that’s there and then the stage disappears. And now that’s it, there’s nothing. There’s nothing left, there’s just the awareness of emptiness. The emptiness of all that is. And I want you to notice what you feel. As you become aware of this emptiness. And death will come in an ordinary moment just like this one.

Now bring your awareness back to where you are. The room that you’re in, the space where you are. Open your eyes if you had them closed. I want you to just look around for a moment, and notice how wonderful it is to just be alive. This is a simple guided meditation practice that can serve as a reminder that death will come in an ordinary moment. A moment just like this one. But for now, this ordinary moment is anything but ordinary. Because this is an extraordinary moment of being alive. And this is the nature of impermanence. Things are continually changing. One thing ends and another thing starts.
But in the end it’s all impermanent. And what there is, is emptiness. I want you to think about that. To just enjoy the feeling of how great it is to just be here. With everything just the way that it is, with the bank account just the way that it is. The friendships just the way that they are. You know, the student loans that you have just the way that they are. Everything just the way that it is. And how good that can feel.

And this is the meditation on impermanence. And if you enjoyed this podcast episode please feel free to share it with others. Write a review or give it a rating in iTunes, and if you’re new to Buddhism, or you’re interested in learning more. Remember, you can listen to the first five episodes of this podcast in order as they serve as a summary of some of the key concepts taught in Buddhist thinking.

And also you can check out my book Secular Buddhism, Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It’s available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Audible. And for more information, and for links you can visit secularbuddhism.com . And that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.