Tomorrow, January 2, 2020, is the “real” Bodhi Day. Tomorrow will be the 8th Day of the 12th Lunar month of the Chinese year 4717.
Since for most of the world today (Jan 1, 2020) is New Year 2020 (new decade too), the subject of time is an appropriate topic for this short “pre lunar Bodhi Day” message.
Time seems to go by faster and faster as I age. It was harder to notice that when before I turned thirty. But when I turned thirty, I noticed that getting to twenty seemed to take forever. Then, before I knew it, I was forty then almost sixty. I know it’s not just me. Mrs. Hanamoku notices it, as well as most of our friends over forty or fifty.
The perception of time is a function of how much things are changing. If things are changing quickly, more snapshots are taken to capture what is going on. Fewer snapshots are needed to capture the essence of watching paint dry.
Most of us have experienced the second before a split-second, life-threatening event, such as a car just a few yards away coming right at us. Life becomes like a video at 10% speed. We’re able to notice everything. By noticing everything we can take wise actions. With that rapid rate of snapshots during that second, what seems like 10 seconds was really just a second.
As I recall my 3rd grade year of school, my impression of it is like that year lasted ten years. It was a time dense with learning, not just the school learning. The core of who I was becoming, my understanding of the world and my interaction with it, noticeably evolved every day.
When you pour cream into coffee and stir, the changes are noticeable, the swirls of cream and coffee. After a second of two, those swirls matures into the light brown drink where further change isn’t very noticeable. That initial time of noticeable change is very short.
As you age, the world changes whether you notice it or not, you continue to change, but not like when you were a kid. However, even at my age, I can still taste the phenomenon of time seeming to pass slower than others.
I’ve been at my current employment for about six months as I write this. I can remember the first two months going by slowly. Then suddenly I’m at six months! As it is with all new jobs, those first two months were a tumultuous time of learning about the processes of my new job, the nature of the work, laying the foundation of my relationships with my co-workers. Then I got the hang of it and despite project milestones and learning a new thing or two each day, it’s not like the learning of those first couple of months. Now the days pass by in a blur.
But even though I changed jobs this year and experienced that slowdown of time after those couple of months, I still have this uncomfortable sense of time flying when I think of Christmas 2018 a year ago. That’s because although I changed places of employment, my place of employment is only a tiny part of who I am.
In terms of Normal Daily Life, the vast majority of who I am, even the generalized nature of the kind of work I do, is roughly similar since last year. So my brain records relatively few snapshots of the year.
It’s not a matter of how many seconds or years go by, but how much is crammed into it. As the level of our Zen skill rises, our attention is focused tightly on the present and so more of the Universe is noticed. In a Zen sense, time slows down as our ability to stay in the present improves. Ultimately, if we were supremely in the Now, would that mean time pretty much stands still?
Time and Impermanence
The Zen master, Takuan Soho, wrote about something like this:
“… when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent.” – from The Unfettered Mind.
We can update Takuan’s statement to something more contemporary: “If a quarterback throws the football to where the moving receiver is when he throws it, the receiver will no longer be there.”
Football fans know that. But Takuan’s statement goes deeper, applying to the impermanence of every thing in our lives, not just the changing position of a wide receiver over a short time of a few seconds.
Change is constant. All of our thoughts are based on records of the past we store in our brains. None of those things filed into our memories actually exists in the next instant. So rather than the pursuit of learning more, we pursue how to blend in with this changing Now, so that our information is always up to date.
Change happens even if we don’t notice it. In the middle of the night life is in full gear somewhere else on Earth. At the microscopic levels, huge populations of tiny creatures are playing out predator and prey dramas every bit as wild as those of the savanna and jungles. Every cell of our bodies are buzzing along even as our mind detects nothing from our senses.
If you now understand Takuan’s statement from “Unfettered Mind”, I’m giving myself a pridefully un-Buddhist pat on the back. I read that passage many times over my life, but as hard as I tried, I didn’t really get it until a few years ago. If you still don’t, then please do chastise me for my pridefullness … haha!
Bodhi Day Mulligan
If you missed the “secular” Bodhi Day of December 8, as it is each year, you have another shot at Bodhi Day. Even though many of us are going back to work tomorrow after this New Year holiday, take the time to observe the lunar Bodhi Day. Wake up a little early to peruse my series of posts on the Eightfold Path from the “secular” Bodhi Day a few weeks ago.
Faith and Patience to you,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku