How to handle things falling apart …


subatomic particles

Quantum mechanics and laws of physics alone show that nothing stays the same, from the smallest to the biggest thing. Subatomic particles are whizzing about in your body and even the seemingly solid walls around you. The blood never stops rushing through your veins. The earth never stops journeying. Our galaxy is flying away from other galaxies at an inconceivable speed. Mentally, no moment of mind has the power to linger. Buddha explained this very clearly in his teachings on subtle impermanence. Blink and it’s a new world.

Everything is momentarily impermanent, infinitely complex and interdependent. We may feel permanent, solid and independent, but that is one hell of an illusion. Especially if we go on assuming that we are not going to die anytime soon, including today.

galaxy

Normally we try to hold tightly onto the infrastructure of our lives – our relationships, our money, our car, our pets, our children, our house, our job, our career, our status, our power, our control. Much of our current self-image is based on these very concrete, solid, pretty much permanent things that seem to define us. The more strongly we grasp at this chunky restrictive sense of self, the more attachment we will need to generate for all these things in order to keep the illusion alive, and the more fear we will have of losing them. Like trying to hang onto the deck furniture on the Titanic, or a sandcastle by the rising tide, our desires and efforts are doomed to failure. Every small loss of, say, a turret on our castle is disillusioning for us because we wanted it to be permanent and fixed, and it ended up being the opposite. Then when the whole lot gets swept away at death…

Does the idea of change frighten you? Losing everything you know? How can we learn not to be frightened of the inevitable?

I find this the most helpful consideration: we can understand that the pain and fear is not actually coming from what we must lose but from our mind that holds on.

Can you remember a time long ago when you were so in love (or attachment) that the very thought of losing that person struck you with terror? But then the years passed and you both went your separate ways and now when you see that person they are middle-aged, like you, with a pot belly and no hair? And you wonder at the love (lust) you felt for them because it has now gone, all gone. But there is no pain in that. It doesn’t matter that it has all gone, because the attachment has also gone. It is only while we had attachment that we needed this person to try and fulfill attachment’s desires. There is, in fact, no loss at all. The mind is peaceful with respect to that person. The tension of holding on has all gone.

Meditation on death is like the elephant’s deepest footprint in terms of the impression it makes on our mind as we can finally see how futile it is to try and hold onto all this stuff that is right now, and constantly, slipping between our fingers. The other day in the shower I was trying to hold onto a bar of hard slippery soap, but it kept slipping through my fingers, and it  reminded me that the more tightly I hold onto stuff, the more quickly it seems to slip from my grasp. If we want to enjoy our life while we still have it, it makes sense to stop grasping with attachment and just go with the flow of reality, like gently letting the soap rest in our hands. Take it or leave it, it is all good.

The fact is, if we relinquish our attachment, it doesn’t mean we are going to suffer loss. The opposite is true. It is only if we keep our attachment that we will experience the pain of loss. And we don’t need it.

Getting rid of attachment is not the same as relinquishing desire. We need desires – to be authentically happy, to love others, to attain liberation and enlightenment, even to put on our socks, etc. We don’t become a detached automaton without attachment. In fact, attachment deadens and dulls us as it is always hankering after an idealized image of something that we feel we must have if we are to be happy, causing us to miss out on what is actually going on under our nose. Without attachment, quite the opposite of becoming detached or hopeless, we can become connected and fully alive to each present moment.

So we don’t need to fear or resist the meditation on impermanence and death because we have nothing to lose but our attachment, and it is attachment that has given rise to all the agony of loss we have experienced since beginningless time.

Do you agree?! Please share this article if you like it. And do like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you want to see interesting links and join in or start your own discussions about meditation in daily life.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

34 thoughts on “How to handle things falling apart …”

  1. From the depts of my heart, thank you so much Luna Kadampa for this other amazing post ! I find the way you teach the precious dharma so clear, so helpful and it fills my heart with a lot of joy 🙂
    ♡♡♡

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  2. Hello, the last fews years of my life have been characterized by a lot of loss. Now I find I am that person with no motivation…not even to put on my socks. When I meditate, even on death, I feel this impenetrable wall between me and what I feel. I feel a lot of discomfort in my body too and that comes up mostly in meditation.

    Any advice?

    I know i one option is to join a miitary style bootcamp and shake myself back to life but I’d rather go for permanent change.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear it, hope this gets better soon. Blessings are important. You’re not on your own. And reaching out to a spiritual community if you can — is there a Kadampa center near you?

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  3. Hi Luna! yet another wonderful article! You always hit home for me..and Attachment seems to me to be one of the tickiest of all delusions for me….I find I can get attached to my attachments to my attachments.. eeeeekkkk…. Making progress little by little.. I used to want to be buried with my Rolex Watch and Swavorski Cyrstal collection……How silly is that?? A little humor can sometimes go a long way when we look at our delusions…..
    xxoo Cathy

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    1. Ha ha!! I love it 🙂 But you’re right, we are scared to let go of our attachments, we think they’ll make our life poorer, even though our discovery is that without attachment we feel far better off.

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  4. Hi Luna, thank you again for your article. It makes me laugh when i look back on my how many times i have being fooled by attachment. Remembering in that time being so miserable and cut off from reality. However, now it makes my determination stronger. I dreamt 3 days ago i was dying in my sleep, i was aware of this process and felt the life slipping away from me. I remember being very scared and at a loss thinking about the people i am attached to. I went for refuge but still felt the fear. When i woke that fear stayed with me — now its a reminder for me that life can go at any time, and while we are here we need to let go and prepare our minds for death.

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    1. What a useful dream!

      I dreamed I was flying last night and I knew that everything was a projection of my mind, so I said to someone ‘I’m going to fall onto the ground but i’ll be fine”, and then I demonstrated, and the ground was like empty space. I’ve been finding this helpful all day for the light, spacious groundlessness you get from not clinging onto things as solid and real. Attachment cannot get a foothold in groundlessness. (Not that i’m about to jump off a cliff or anything…)

      The thing about good dreams like ours is to *remember* how they felt, hopefully for longer than one day, before we start grasping again 😉

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      1. I had a dream before my first Tara empowerment years ago, a red snake was biting my arm and Tara was just smiling and telling me “It can not hurt you” . At the time an individual was trying to hurt my reputation (cause and effect they had their reasons! ) and this helped me so much to realise it is not worth creating more negative karma to try to hold on to the illusion of reputation , I used many many teachings to get through this period and it did pass and no permanent damage was done, so grateful for our tradition and Buddha’s wonderful teachings.😀

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  5. Dear Luna….i have a very close friend who is almost dying…she is very ill ( bones cancer)…i was with her last week….she is very thin and she was saying to me that the last 3 weeks she has been dreaming with food….and that she feels hunger….is difficult for her to eat even to drink some thing…and the pain is even worse…it was a deep experience…she is afraid of death….and yet she is accepting what ever happens…she is not Buddhist …
    it is easy to think in let it go….but when you are there…and you don´t have Dharma it is even harder to accept ….we are so fortunate….to have found this precious teachings….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Luna .
        Her name is Miriam Peña,she is Christian, and i think it would be able to talk with her….
        could you help me to do so? i am not sure what to say….i feel afraid to confuse her …

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        1. You could ask her if she has faith in any holy beings, to start with. A friend of mine was dying and I helped him visualize Jesus on his crown and feel that he was going into Jesus’s heart, a beautiful heavenly place with no suffering, just like we do with powa. He died peacefully. You can also simply try and reassure her that she will be safe, that she is a good person. She needs to die feeling confident, not scared. What you say naturally depends on how open she is, and that may also change as she gets closer to her actual death. But the first thing I would figure out is if she has faith, because then you can take it from there.

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  6. Thank you for another very practical and helpful post.

    How can we apply our understanding of emptiness when things fall apart? realizing that what we thought we had didn’t actually exist, that the situation that now seems to cause us pain doesn’t actually exist that way?

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    1. HI Carol, yes, both of those approaches would work. And impermanence itself teaches us emptiness — if things are changing moment by moment, they are dependent upon causes, and have no existence from their own side. Nothing is fixed, which means everything is possible if we change our perceptions.

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  7. I am in a part of my life that is forcing detachment, i’m having a hard time putting what little i have learned into practice (even though I really do try). I am alone and only have books and a computer. This article will help me to meditate tonite, thanks. peace and love, mike.

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    1. Hi Mike, Luckily these days it is easier to be living alone and still stay connected to supportive friends online, and, as I mentioned to you on the Kadampa Life Facebook page, perhaps you could go along to courses every once in a while to become inspired and meet people whom you can then continue discussing with online. You can find Kadampa Buddhist centers nearest to you on http://www.kadampa.org. You are always welcome to post questions and comments on this blog too. Good luck, and you’re not alone.

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  8. Luna thanks again for this article…
    meditation on death is so strong….
    learn how to let go and release…
    partner, sons, family, friends, houses, business,
    all the different persons, beings and objects,
    that appeared in our minds….
    when we get attachment to them,
    they rob us our happiness and peace…
    it’s like attempting to hold a stream of water in the hands…
    death is closer than we think …
    be prepared for that moment is a gift we can give to ourselves

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  9. very true… and it made me remember my old days where I was heart broken and felt alone, pain and agony because all of an attachment.

    We tend to know all this, but when time comes to actually use it, one doesn’t get it then…

    So it is in those difficult times one should be enlightened himself.

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  10. Another great article. Thanks once more.

    I love Ernest Becker on how fear of death limits our life.

    “The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”

    Meditation on death can help resolve this paradox.

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  11. Gen-la Khyenrab said that meditation on death is our best friend. Thank you very much Luna for continuing to write such wonderful articles. You clearly put a lot of effort and time into all this – please carry on. I say that in a non-attached non-graspy abiding in subtle impermanence but don’t… stop 😉

    I like to ask myself am I ready to begin my next life today? Do I accept that this whole world may end for me today?

    Thanks again, with real rejoicing

    Mark

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  12. So true Luna, I cling to many of the things you mention and I feel the pain it causes, and yet still I cling on and actively search out new attachments. I am still at the stage of apportioning the blame at the correct object – my attachment, but I think it is gradually growing weaker – just not as quickly as i would like.

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      1. At the end of a very long relationship, this blog article came as a blessing. I’m grateful to have had a pretty strong practice before this breakup started. Michael and Mike’s comments both resonate though. When things fall apart we grasp even more strongly. We simply don’t want them to go. We feel, instinctively, that they are what make us tick. If we lose them we won’t tick! Its funny how all loses echo our big fear of losing this body, this life, these particular aggregates. Thank you Luna. Its all been a reminder of how important a strong, steady practice is.

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        1. Jason, you have my sympathy (and probably everyone else’s, is there anyone who has not been through this?!) You’re spot on about that ticking thing. It’s always been my experience that I learn the most at these times. We are forced to rely on our practice for our happiness and sanity and, to our pleasant surprise, it works!!! We can end up stronger, more self-contained and also kinder, even if we have some grim moments on the way there. Good luck.

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    1. I rejoice, this is actually a not half-bad article.

      Years and years ago before i did my tranquil abiding retreat on death at Tharpaland i made a mistake and got the dates wrong, i went to the retreat the week before. There was no-one there. I felt too embarrassed at the time to tell my teacher Venerable Tharchin of my experience but now see it as a blessing.

      I contemplated that i am so fortunate to have this opportunity. This sangha, this website, our teachers etc they will all be gone and our opportunity will pass, it’s best to make the most of it. Meditations on death really are so good, especially for killing anxiety and worry.

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