And just as we feed off physical food without assuming that it’s going to be permanent, clinging to things doesn’t necessarily mean that we assume them to be permanent.
We cling whenever we sense that the effort of clinging is repaid by some sort of satisfaction, permanent or not. We cling because there’s some pleasure in the things to which we cling (SN 22:60). When we can’t find what we’d like to cling to, our hunger forces us to take what we can get.
For this reason, the act of embracing things in the present moment still counts as clinging. Even if we’re adept at moving from one changing thing to another, it simply means that we’re serial clingers, taking little bites out of every passing thing. We still suffer in the incessant drive to keep finding the next bite to eat.
This is why being constantly mindful of the truth of impermanence isn’t enough to solve the problem of suffering. To really solve it, we need to change our feeding habits—radically—so that we can strengthen the mind to the point where it no longer needs to feed.
This requires a two-pronged strategy: (a) seeing the drawbacks of our ordinary ways of feeding, and (b) providing the mind with better food in the meantime until it has outgrown the need to feed on anything at all.
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Essays book, First Things First: Essays on the Buddhist Path, “First Things First.”