Mindfulness practices have become internationally popular in the past two decades, but their roots reach 2,500 years into the past. While these practices have assumed different forms over the millennia, their purpose which is to end human suffering, has remained constant. The current wave of mindfulness therapies, coaching, and behavior change programs in the west primarily owe their existence to a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The program was developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a former professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts. The effectiveness of this eight-week program to lower stress and enhance well-being has been and increasingly is supported by hundreds of scientific research studies, some of which you likely read about in the previous module. While most modern mindfulness practices, especially those featured in the west are taught secularly, that is with little or no mention of their religious connections, there's a wealth of knowledge and insight concealed in its Buddhist roots. Now, I don't profess to be a Buddhist scholar, and certainly I encourage you to explore the basic tenets and theories of Buddhism for yourself, but I do want to share a few core components in Buddhist philosophy that reflects some interesting truths about universal human experience and give us a new position to work from as we consider how the practice of mindfulness can help us alleviate our suffering and enhance our lives. I want to add here that you don't have to become a Buddhist or abdicate your current religious beliefs to appreciate or see the value in some of the teaching associated with Buddhist philosophy. Like you've heard me say multiple times already, there's a great benefit that comes when we approach things with an attitude of open curiosity, and I hope regardless of your religious orientation that you'll do that now. Now that I've offered all those disclaimers, let me share an old Buddhist story with you that goes roughly like this. One day, a Buddhist sat down under a tree to take a rest and meditate. As he did, he paused and looked all around him. When he did, he began to notice just how beautiful the countryside was. He saw the circle of life around him, everything seemed beautiful. Flowers bloomed and the leaves caught the sun. But in the midst of all this life and beauty, he also saw grave unhappiness. The flowers he watched bloom eventually withered and died. He saw a farmer beating an ox in the field, he saw a bird eating a worm, and then an eagle eating this bird. Deeply troubled, he wondered why life must turn into death and why living creatures destroy and kill others for sustenance. During his enlightenment, the Buddha found the answer to these questions. Through his meditations, Buddha realized that everything in the physical world including mental activity and psychological experience is marked by three characteristics. The first characteristic that Buddha realized is that everything is always in process. According to his teachings, life is comparable to a river. Just like water molecules joined together and give the appearance of one continuous flow, life is actually a successive series of different moments joining together to give the impression of one singular experience. But in reality, our lives and everything all around us is actually changing every moment. This is true on a cellular level. We know that cells and all living bodies are constantly dying off, or dividing themselves, or regenerating, and this is true energetically as well. Our lives are continually shaped by causes and effects, and we move from one state of existence to another. The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river in this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. Now, what in the world does this mean? It means that everything is impermanent. Everything from concrete structures to the universe itself, relationships, ideas and opinions, world powers, careers, and yes, even you and me. Maybe you hear this and say, well, I know that and you do. On some level, we all do. The problem is that, even though we know it, it terrifies us. We still cling to things with the hope that they're permanent because as long as we're alive, we want them to go on and on as well. I have a dog at home that I'm just crazy about. He's my best friend and he's taught me so many things about unconditional love and loyalty. I love being with him, I love our life together, and I love our routine. But he's getting older, and chances are he isn't going to be here for as long as I am. When I think of this and of losing him, it fills me with deep sadness. It makes me want to throw my arms around his big, furry neck and just never let go. But if I accept that all aspects of the natural world are impermanent, that everything has a life, then I can stay present and love him big while I have him, but not get lost or overwhelmed by my desire for him to be with me forever. Because of my mindfulness practice, I can spend my remaining time with him making every moment count rather than wasting it because of my preoccupation with what's going to happen down the road. Accepting impermanence doesn't mean that we don't attach to things or that loss suddenly becomes easy, it means that our attachments don't own us. If we can learn to cling less, we're not as undone when a relationship ends, a job is lost, or when people or animals we love die. Our acceptance of the inevitable allows us to go with the flow of life, be more grateful, and it gives us more grace and resilience during the time of great loss. There's an even sunnier side to our acknowledgment of the fact that everything is impermanent. If we believe that everything is always in process, always evolving and changing, and if we include in this category moods, emotions, and experiences, then we don't have to panic when negative emotions or circumstances come our way. They too shall pass. Now, this isn't a theoretical truth that I'm asking you to accept, it's a concept that I'm asking you to consider and explore in your own life. Find the areas where you feel stuck in grief or loss, or where you cling because you expect and desire a situation or a relationship to last. Ask yourself, what might change if you trusted impermanence? What would it do for your suffering? A second truth about life that Buddha noticed is that it's both impersonal and imperfect. No matter how good we are or how hard we try, each one of us will inevitably experience 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows in our lifetime, and no one will escape unscathed. Both joy and beauty, and pain and sorrow are inherent in the human condition. But Buddha also said that while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. He pointed out that it's our relationship to the difficulties in our life that's what's problematic. In fact, it could be said that the majority of our suffering is actually caused by our reaction to the difficulty. Now, most of us have a normal and healthy drive to be safe and happy and avoid danger, pain, and unpleasantness. This inclination is programmed in our DNA and integral to our survival. There's nothing wrong with generally trying to avoid pain and things that are unpleasant. The difficulty arises when we encounter one of those inevitable 10,000 sorrows that we can escape, but we choose unskillful means to try. Let me give you an example. You're bopping along in life when lo and behold, you encounter something difficult. Let's say you are hoping to get a promotion at work, but it didn't work out for you. So you have the disappointment that comes with that, a natural response to a dissatisfying situation. But then you have your reaction to this disappointment. You don't like feeling disappointed. You want the hurt to go away, and maybe tell yourself the decision wasn't fair, or that you're stupid or not good enough, that you never should have expected to be promoted in the first place. All stories that deepen your sadness. Your reaction to this is to withdraw at work, seek comfort through food, binge-watch your favorite TV show to get your mind off the situation. Before long, you gain 10 pounds, feel isolated, and lonesome. Instead of understanding that disappointment is part of life, what you've done is attempt to resist it and to push it away. What we see here is that the strategies that we have for resisting emotional pain can be as problematic as the original difficulty. Adding struggle to challenge creates suffering. Our mindfulness practice teaches us to pause in the midst of pain, to sit with it, and observe the feelings. This isn't to say that you allow it to overwhelm you, but being aware of our feelings and making wise choices for expressing them or offering ourselves compassion in their midst enables them to discharge. Remember, emotions are as susceptible to the laws of physics as anything else. They are also impermanent. If we let them be, they'll go away on their own and we don't have to gain 10 pounds in the process. The last universal truth that Buddha pointed out deals with our belief that we're a cohesive and fixed self. Now, this one's a toughie so bear with me. Instead of strongly attaching to our egoic self, Buddha asks that we consider the possibility that, in fact, we aren't a permanent, autonomous being, but a work in progress, and that much of who we are is influenced by context, time, our environment, and those around us. Remember, everything about you is in constant flux from the trillions of cells that make up your body, to the multitude of processes that create thoughts, emotions, reactions, opinions, and beliefs. Why does this matter? Well, the Buddha taught that suffering arises out of feeling separate and that a strong attachment to self produces harmful thoughts of me and mine. Selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, conceit, pride and other problems. To the degree that we identify as an individual fixed self, we give rise to an intense sense of separation. Tara Brach, a meditation teacher and psychologist that I've mentioned in previous videos, wrote a wonderful book called Radical Acceptance. In it, she articulates how living inside of a contracted and isolated self amplifies feelings of vulnerability and fear, grasping, and aversion. When inevitable pain arises, we take it personally. We're diagnosed with a disease or go through a divorce and we perceive that we're the cause of unpleasantness, we're deficient in some way, or that we're the weak and vulnerable victim, still deficient. If we believe that everything that happens to us is a reflection of us, when something seems wrong, we come to the only conclusion that seems possible. The source of what's wrong must be me. Ouch. Our desperate efforts to enhance and protect this fragile self has resulted in disastrous consequences. In our attempts to dominate the natural world, we've separated ourselves from the earth. In our efforts to prove and defend ourselves and have power over, we've separated ourselves from each other. Managing life from our mental control towers, we've separated ourselves from our bodies and our hearts. Our most fundamental sense of well-being is derived from the conscious experience of belonging. When we let go of the idea that we're a separate entity unto ourselves, we feel part of the whole, connected to our bodies, each other, and the earth. There's a sense of inherent rightness, of being wakeful and filled with gratitude, and our suffering abates. As Einstein once said, "A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty." This might feel like quite a bit to process, but in essence, these three truths are relatively simple and trusting them is surprisingly transformative. For me, they've created a framework from my experience that's given me a greater peace and it's helped me be more skillful in dealing with the challenging aspects of my day-to-day existence. But don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself how these universal truths checkout while you use the practice of mindfulness to explore your life.