Try to have a Permanent Emotion, by Ajahn Sumedho

Standing Buddha, Southern Cambodia, mid-7th century. © The Metropolitan Museum of ArtMy parents died many years ago, but I remember going to see them in America when I was fifty-five years old. To them of course I wasn’t Ajahn Sumedho or anything like that, but just their little boy. Pretty soon the old ways of relating to each other started up again, and I found it really strange; it really affected me. Try to notice those kinds of relationships, the assumptions that go with father-son, mother-son, mother-daughter and so forth, just the assumptions and habit-tendencies that we have personally and emotionally. You could say that your parents shouldn’t treat you the way they do, that they should accept you as an equal adult. But that would be a should of life; it would be an ideal. The way it actually is, is ‘like this’. By allowing experiences to be consciously accepted, you realize that even if your parents can’t change, at least you can; you can change your attitude and not get caught up in adolescent resentments that arise ― when you are fifty-five years old!

To think ‘I am screwed up’, is a value judgement, isn’t it? ‘Screwed up’ makes the ‘I am’. It is identifying with a certain kind of condition, a feeling about oneself personally. If we leave off the ‘screwed up’ bit, we get more to the reality of the moment ― ‘Right now I am . . .’ and there is this sense of being here and now. This is a recognition of conscious experience as an entity. There is an entity but it is not personal any more; it is not ‘I am Ajahn Sumedho’ or ‘I am’ anything at all; it is just this sense of ‘I am’, of presence. Being a conscious entity is ― ‘like this’. Reflect on that and sustain it for a while, that sense of ‘I am’, without adding any personal conditions to it.

In this sense of ‘I am’, the body is ‘like this’. There is consciousness, there is the breath (one can be aware of just the breathing of the body, ànàpànasati mindfulness on in-breathing and out-breathing.), there is the ‘sound of silence’, the ostinato, the background. And in this intuitive moment, one observes without adding any kind of personal quality. The breathing does not convey a high sense of personal attainment, achievement or identity. When you reflect on the body as experience right now, it is not like looking into a mirror and deciding whether there are a few more lines on your face or whether your nose is too big; the appearance isn’t important. You are aware of just the experience of a physical body that is a conscious being, and holding that; you are able to reflect on the reality of it. And as you do so, you may become more aware of tensions in the body ― the way your shoulders are or your spine, the pressure of the body sitting on a mat, or sensations of itching that come along ― and you realize they are ‘like this’. In terms of basic meditation, the awareness of your posture and breath, and maybe the ‘sound of silence’, are ways of bringing you into the present moment where you are not trying to get anything, not trying to achieve or attain anything, not operating from some idea of ‘if I do this practice, I will get enlightened in the future’; you are rather learning to centre yourself, to open to the present through these very grounding experiences, before they get into highly personal conditions like emotions. If you ground yourself in this way, then emotional states will come up ― lack of self-worth, doubt, despair, anger, greed, and all the rest ― but you will recognize that body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects (in terms of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, satipaññhàna contemplation of body, feeling, mind, and mind-objects.) simply arise and cease.

Buddha, Cambodia or Vietnam, 7th–8th century. © The Metropolitan Museum of ArtTry to have a permanent emotion. Depression seems permanent while you are in it; and the biggest fear is that you will never get out of it again: ‘I’m in hell forever! An eternal hell!’ That is the way it seems. But as you relate to feelings of depression or worthlessness, despair or negative states of mind in this other way, you will recognize that they are the way they are. And you allow them to become conscious by no longer resisting these things ― by no longer trying to analyse them, criticize them or distract yourselves from them. You begin to recognize impermanence and to allow any condition to be what it is.

Now, you cannot do that if you are taking it personally.

An extract from Don’t Take Your Life Personally you can find it on or

Click here to read more teachings by Ajahn Sumedho

Categories: Ajahn Sumedho, Beginners, Buddhist meditation, Foundations of Buddhism, Theravada

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7 replies

  1. Somebody said that the way you look at your problem is the problem itself. which reminds me of the story of the rope and the snake and again what you resist persists

  2. Excellent points as always. I would add that meditation becomes meaningful when we choose to develop a sustained conscious relationship of being totally present for thoughts, emotional states like anxiety and depression or any other mental experience. As meditator, our job is to stay with each object as long as it needs to come to cessation. All things will change, but they will only heal if we stay conscious and don’t take depression or any other manifestation of dukkha as personal and, also, do not reject mental objects either.

  3. Thank you.

  4. Profound and helpful…as you so frequently “am”! Many thanks.

  5. Wisdom for even the darkest of times

  6. A narrative of being.


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