The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind: Part One – Impermanence

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I am a certified health coach specializing in recovery coaching, mindfulness coaching, and health coaching. I work with all attachments including substance, codependency, and food ...Read More

I am going to be sharing a Buddhist concept that is very helpful for anyone suffering in any way. In the preliminary practice in Tibetan Buddhism, the student is called upon to contemplate the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind. They are:

  • Impermanence
  • Suffering
  • Karma
  • Precious Human Birth

I will discuss Impermanence in this post.


Due to our ego, it is basic human nature to think that things can or even should be static. When times are good we just “never want them to end”. We attempt to keep things static by clinging to them.

For instance, you might go on a wonderful vacation where you just don’t want it to end. At first you have the best time, but then you begin to think that pretty soon it will be time to go home. At this point clinging is in full force. You begin to be sad that you only have a few days left which puts a bit of a pall on all the fun you are having. Then they day comes and you are in full fledged dread of having to return to the regular grind of work and homelife.

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In an opposite example, things are going terrible at work. You begin to feel trapped and eventually become seriously depressed that it is so awful. Since you are not contemplating impermanence, you spiral into despair which affects your ability to even function which makes matters even worse at work.

In both cases, we have not been aware that ALL things come to pass. There is no state that remains, even the Human state. We all grow older and eventually become decrepit and die. If we are able to get really comfortable with the concept of impermanence, we are able to develop a sense of grace and acceptance of exactly what is without judgement or clinging.

When you are having a great time, you refrain from clinging and make a much easier transition to the inevitable stresses and challenges of every day life. One of the reasons “One Day at a Time” is a catch phrase in 12 Step Programs is because addiction IS the outpicturing of clinging to the pleasure of indulging in whatever it is that is giving addictive pleasure or dulling pain. But inevitable what originally solves the problem inevitably BECOMES the problem.

When things are dreadful, impermanence gives us a sense of hope that this will not go on forever, which allows the forbearance to trudge ahead until things inevitably change.

When we are fully in awareness of impermanence, it is much easier to be in the middle state or as the Buddhists say, the Middle Way. This is a state of equanimity which allows us to function at our peak performance. When we relate to a person who is fully aware of impermanence, we come to perceive them as wise or unflappable. These are people who tend to say “there are no big deals”. These are people who are able to have a sense of humor during adversity and not experience the extremes of giddiness or despair. We see them as being mellow. These people have a power that is the result of humility and grace. They also tend to be people magnets and end up in positions of benevolent leadership.

Fully understanding impermanence promotes happiness and reduces suffering…give it a try!

In the next post I will talk about suffering.

I am open to your comments….

Be Well!

Keep Reading By Author Michele Happe, MA, Certified Health Coach
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