L’Chaim: To Life and Impermanence

by Dr. Arlette Poland

There is a continuousness about existence that Whitehead recognized. One event, life, thing even memory flows into another. First there is this and then there is that. If there is no this, as we say in Buddhism, then there is no that. Simple. Not easy – but simple, yes. Such is life.

In the world according to Whitehead, all of the past is available to each becoming occasion. The becoming occasion or event filters out certain aspects of the past so as to maintain order. Order is a quality of perception and is repeatedly adjusted by the becoming occasion or event in ways and times that fit the situation and the becoming event. In Science of Mind, the teaching of Religious Science, there is the saying that we can make up our life all the time. The crux of this specific point is that when we change our thinking, in like manner and over time, we also change our lives.

Whitehead advocates for a three part experience in the activity of perception. There is the perceiver. This is the becoming occasion or event. There is the object perceived – whether person or not, it is still the object of the perception. Then there is the subjective veil (my words) that eliminate some and accept other aspects of the experience of perception. Ultimately, we can understand Whitehead’s point as recognition of the quality and amount of control our perception has of any experience.

That leads us right into the Science of Mind teaching about thinking. Thinking makes up our perceptions. When we change our thinking we change our perceptions and that changes our experience. Change is novelty. Whitehead valued novelty as much as he valued life. In fact, he held that novelty was the activity of life itself.

Also, if novelty is life and change is part of the true nature of existence (sunyata – Buddhism) then change as novelty is life and Whitehead’s notions are in line with Buddhist teaching. But, neither Buddhism nor Whitehead state that novelty or change (impermanence) cut off or destroy continuity.

There is a continuousness about life and existence. Our memory, as humans, helps us recognize some of it through our perceptions. But again, these are colored by our current thinking that is (hopefully) changing in a direction that expands our consciousness and increases compassion. In any case, the seasons show us change through the shifts in nature. The flow of birth and death shows us continuity in our bodies.

What makes us humans a bit different, as far as we know, is that some of the changes for the human involve greater amounts of choice. For instance, we can choose to not change. From a Whiteheadian, Buddhist and Science of Mind teaching view … such a choice, however, would be tantamount to a living death.

So, choose life. Embrace novelty. Accept impermanence. L’Chaim!


source of photo: http://blaineharrington.photoshelter.com/image/I0000s7.HAURK2ug