The subtleties of moment-to-moment experience

I recently heard that one of the many effects of meditation practice is that, over time, you become increasingly aware of the shifting nature of experience from moment to moment, seeing for example how feelings of happiness and calm can pass away and feelings of agitation can arise in their wake. I’ve been noticing this constant, subtle shift in experience a lot lately.  The other morning, I was delighted to discover that I was feeling calm and at peace for no apparent reason. I was just feeling happy. “How nice”, my mind said, “this is going to be a good day”. I knew I was setting myself up with a thought like that; I know better than to think that a mood state will last forever, or even all day. But my mind, like all minds, tries to hold on to the pleasant and push away the unpleasant, and this thought was a natural reaction to feeling happy. That morning, the unpleasant arrived soon enough: an hour or two later, I found myself feeling impatient and cranky. My mind immediately went to work, looking for a cause of this “bad” mood, quickly inventorying everything I’d consumed that day – “did I drink too much coffee?”; evaluating the places I’d been – “this is because I had to wait in a long line at the post office!”; berating myself for not just staying home, sitting in front of the fire curled up with a good book. “Next time”, my mind said, “I’ll do things differently. Next time, I’ll make this good mood last much longer”. Hah!

Our moment-to-moment experience is constantly shifting. Practicing meditation helps us see more clearly what’s going on in the mind, and we begin to catch these shifts as they happen rather than only noticing them when we experience a dramatic change in mood. Along with this awareness, we begin to see all the wacky things the mind does to hold on to what feels nice and reject what feels not so nice. I notice that when my mood feels pleasant, I project these feelings into the future, planning an entire day around my lovely state of mind. And then as the pleasant feelings subtly begin to subside, feelings of regret and frustration arise, and I have thoughts like, “oh, not this again!”, quickly followed by a reassuring voice telling me that I’ll feel happy again soon.

The more I watch this flow of experience unfold, the more aware I am of how quickly and how often these shifts occur. As much as my mind would love to have “a good day”, I’ve yet to experience a day that didn’t have some unpleasant experience passing through my mind. I guess what this all boils down to is this: there are no “good” days or “bad” days; they’re all just days, filled with experience, some of which is pleasant, and some of which is unpleasant. We can fight this stream of experience and make ourselves miserable in the process, or we can swim with the current and discover that it really is much easier to go with the flow.

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