It was a typical summer day in London, shifting temperatures and periods of light rain. I was just outside the British museum spending time with friend and teacher Lama Rigdzin Dorje deepening my understanding of the esoteric Buddhist practice of Vajrakilaya. This practice is very complex and was introduced to me by my teacher An-shu Stephen Hayes, whom I continue this study with. Simply, and dangerously briefly described, the practice centers on removing obstacles to liberation and enlightenment, and understanding that most, if not all of them, reside within.
As we finished up our morning session, Lama Dorje asked me if I remembered what I ate for lunch the day before. I replied that I did, thinking he was just being considerate and wanted to avoid having me eat the same thing. He continued this line of questioning and asked if I could “really remember.” “Can you recall the texture in your mouth, the flavors, the aromas, the entire experience.” At this point I realized that something was up. He asked me to close my eyes and take a moment to recall the experience in detail.
Having done this, he asked me to open my eyes. His whole demeanor and tone of voice changed when he then asked me the pivotal question, the point of the whole lesson. “Now, when you become hungry this afternoon,” he said, “can you feed yourself with yesterday’s lunch?” It was a wonderful lesson in the law of impermanence, a universal truth that we routinely lose sight of, ignore, and tenaciously resist.
Whether your experience of the past was one of great joy and happiness or suffering, misery, embarrassment, foolishness, and regret, the fact remains; it no longer exists. There is nothing left but memories in your mind, your unique three pound universe, and, perhaps the minds of a few others. To begin with, repeated studies have proven that these memories are not even consistent, in fact they are often astoundingly incongruent. It is frequently hard to believe that two people are describing what they claim to have experienced as the same event.
The law of impermanence is best understood as a double-edged sword. When we try to hold on to happy experiences in an attempt to make them last they can cause us suffering as we compare our current circumstances and they don’t seem to measure up. We also cause ourselves suffering when we refuse to let go of unhappy, disappointing, embarrassing experiences of the past (there is never a shortage of people who would like to help you to continue beating yourself up).
Conversely, by embracing the law of impermanence we can, with practice, relieve ourselves of a great deal of self-inflicted suffering. So, whether it was ridiculously delicious or abominably distasteful, develop the habit of asking the question “am I feeding myself with yesterday’s lunch?” Our lives can be changed dramatically by learning to minimize these self-inflicted wounds.