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Balancing love and loss with music and meditation

My teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and my father, Sol Nichtern, passed away within a year of each other, inspiring me to write the song “In My Heart and On My Mind.” (Listen to my friend the wonderful singer Elise Morris sing it here.)

When we lose someone we love, we can actually feel our own tenderness. Rather than shutting down and losing heart, we can become more open and compassionate. Understanding impermanence can help us feel the preciousness of this life more fully.

Impermanence, the insubstantiality of self-existence, and the suffering of conditioned existence form what is known as the three marks of existence. Many have contemplated and commented on this classic Buddhist teaching with great depth, subtlety, and illumination.

A Western student asked His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, one of the greatest Buddhist masters of the twentieth century, “What does an enlightened being experience?” He answered with a single word, “Impermanence!”

Connecting with impermanence can produce profound insight and a shift in perspective. It can put us in touch with the fragile, poignant quality of our own existence and that of our loved ones and friends. It helps us develop sympathy, empathy, and compassion for them, ourselves, and all beings who are subject to the same terms of existence.

In contemplation practice we use our mindful attention to focus on a particular train of thought. This kind of practice can help us explore and resonate with any topic, developing insight and perspective. Combined with mindfulness and awareness meditation practices, contemplation can be surprisingly powerful.

Let’s take five minutes right now to contemplate impermanence. Below are instructions from my recent book, Creativity, Spirituality & Making a Buck.

Usually when we contemplate the impermanence of our own body and in fact the bodies of all sentient beings from beginningless time, one of three things happens: we get sad, we go into denial, we develop wisdom. In Buddhism aligning our minds with how things actually are is considered healthier and ultimately more productive than any fantasy or wishful thinking we could create.The flip side of impermanence and change is that there is some kind of continuity. When we see an old friend, their hair might have turned grey, they may look more or less healthy, or be more or less happy, but there is still some feeling of a continuity of being””otherwise we would not even recognize them!

Continuity, in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, is called gyu. A thread of continuity connects both confused habitual patterns as well as enlightened possibilities, going from moment to moment and lifetime to lifetime. Understanding this kind of continuity is key to understanding our spiritual journey in this very lifetime.

We can chose how to relate to the patterns of existence that are conditional as well as developing an awareness of dimensions of our existence that are less relative and time-dependent. These practices and understandings can lead us to experiencing our personal karma and journey more clearly as well as connecting with the primordial, unconditional nature of mind itself.

In addition to diminishment and loss, impermanence includes birth, new beginnings, transitions, and growth. If body, emotions, and mind were permanent there would be no opportunity for new life, evolution, and expansion.

Losing my father and my teacher in the same year provided a crash course in impermanence. Out of that loss came my song. They are gone, but as the lyrics say, I continue to hold them in my heart and mind.

In My Heart and On My Mind
Words and music by David Nichtern

Verse 1:

Time goes by, faster than a freight train,

Lovers come and lovers go.

In my eyes your memory often lingers,

I just had to let you know.

Chorus 1:

Write these words down, sealed and signed:

In this world, while breath still stirs my body,

You’re in my heart and on my mind.

Verse 2:

In my life, I’ve searched for deeper meaning,

Traveled far and traveled wide.

But search the world and wisdom will elude you,

For in the heart it does abide.

Chorus 2:

Time to travel on, say goodbye.

But in this world, while breath still fills my body,

You’re in my heart and on my mind.


Precious gifts you gave to me”¦

These I will take with me on my journey.

Chorus 3:

Time to travel on, say goodbye.

But in this world, while breath still fills my body,

You’re in my heart and on my mind.

You’re in my heart and on my mind.

© David Nichtern – published by Nudgie Tunes LLC

(all rights reserved)

About the Contributor
David Nichtern is a senior teacher in the lineage of renowned Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Hehas been co-director of the Dharmadhatu Meditation Center and the Karme Choling Meditation Center, as well as director of Buddhist practice and study for OM Yoga. Nichtern is also a well-known composer, producer, and guitarist. A four-time Emmy winner and a two-time Grammy nominee, he is the founder of Dharma Moon and 5 Points Records.

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