Impermanence Revisited

Tulips and Bluebells
Tulips and Bluebells

Here in Pennsylvania the tulips are in various stages of maturity. The beautiful yellow ones in front of my house dried up and blew away, while the others are somewhere near the end of their life cycle.

I found these in a local park and they seem to be in their prime, but in a few weeks they will be gone forever-dust to dust. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older or maybe I just notice it more, but things seem to move a lot faster now.

Watching the flowers come and go is also watching the days speed by, and I know I’m running out of time. Of course this is how life works; we’re here for a while and then we’re gone. And whether we acknowledge it or not, suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are.

W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge has a great perspective on impermanence: “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”

Along the way, take time to smell the flowers, in as many ways as you can for as long as you can.

Don’t Fear the Sunset

Pequea Marina
Pequea Marina

“There are those who fear the sunset, worried they will never see light again. There are those who ignore the sunrise, squandering dawn, believing they will never run out of daylight.

And then there are those who have learned to live in the sun’s warmth, gauging time by its positions, thankful at night that the day happened. Be aware of time. Use it wisely. Be thankful for the light allotted.” Richelle E. Goodrich

Nothing Special

Tulip
Tulip

I left the house at 5:30 to photograph the United States Hot Air Balloon Team in Bird-in-Hand. It was a beautiful, calm morning and I had an extra battery, a tripod and high hopes.

The balloon went from trailer to air in twenty five minutes and floated off into the sunrise. I took 50 photos that I knew I wouldn’t keep because I’ve seen it so many times before. Here in Lancaster, watching a hot air balloon is an ordinary thing, and even at dawn it seemed like nothing special.

I went home and as I walked towards my front door I noticed some tulips in the garden, took a few quick shots, then downloaded and deleted everything because they weren’t perfect. But I went back to look at the flowers, and this time I really looked (and photographed).

The photo isn’t perfect but the tulip definitely is. It opened within the last hour, will close at night, and by the end of the month it will be gone. I was looking for something amazing and walked right by it.

In her book Nothing Special, Charlotte Joko Beck talks about awareness. “We don’t have to try to develop awareness; we simply need to notice how we block awareness, with our thoughts, our fantasies, our opinions, and our judgments.”

I was looking for something special, something awe inspiring, and these flowers are as close to a miracle as I was going to find. You don’t have to go far to be inspired, you just have to be aware of the things that are right in front of you all the time.

The Gateless Gate

The Gateless Gate?
The Gateless Gate?

The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Zen koans compiled in the 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Pausha Foley, an amazing artist and self described strange creature that doesn’t exist, explains the gateless gate in a way that even a child like me of 58 can understand:

“The gate is a creation of the human mind. As long as one believes oneself to be one’s mind, the gate is as solid and real as the mind is. As soon as one cases to identify with one’s mind however, the mind and all its creations reveal themselves as what they are: a bunch of ideas, devoid of any substance. So, from within the mind the gate exists, from outside of the mind it does not.”

If this isn’t crystal clear by now I give you koan 7, Joshu Washes the Bowl:

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

Of course one very important point must be made; if you don’t rinse your bowl before putting it in the dishwasher, it will not get completely clean and you will not be enlightened. The cleaning lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute says otherwise, but they also say that pre-rinsing is a needless time suck. Obviously they’ve never heard of the theory of relativity.

The Illusion of Security

The Illusion of Security
The Illusion of Security

Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Theravada Buddhist monk wrote an article called The Search for Security on a website called Access to Insight. This is from the first paragraph:

“We only feel at ease when we are sealed off from manifest danger, comfortably at home with ourselves and with our world, snugly tucked into familiar territory where everything seems friendly and dependable.”

Probably the best perspective on this, as well as one of the most intelligent things anyone has ever said is by Helen Keller:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

You cannot win, if you do not play.

The Razor’s Edge

Razorblade Suitcase
Razorblade Suitcase

The Razor’s Edge is a book by W. Somerset Maugham and its inscription reads, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen wrote: “When we walk the razor’s edge we’re not important; we’re no-self, embedded in life. This we fear-even though life as no-self is pure joy. Our fear drives us to stay over here in our lonely self-righteousness. The paradox: only in walking the razor’s edge, in experiencing the fear directly, can we know what it is to have no fear.”

“Still, it is necessary to acknowledge that most of the time we want nothing to do with that edge; we want to stay separate. We want the sterile satisfaction of wallowing in “I am right.” That’s a poor satisfaction, of course, but still we will usually settle for a diminished life rather than experience life as it is when that seems painful and distasteful.”

Put another way by Eckhart Tolle: “The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.”

So you gotta ask yourself one question, how soon is now?

The Empty Boat

Empty boats at Muddy Run
Empty boats at Muddy Run

In this classic parable, Chuang Tzu writes about the empty boat: “You’re on the mountain lake, almost dozing, when suddenly a boat crashes into your hull; you’re angry, you shout, But then you see, the boat is empty.”

So my first question is, am I in a $20 an hour rental boat like the ones at Muddy Run, or am I in a fully restored 1956 Chris Craft worth 1000 times that? But wait, there’s more…

In Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron writes about the same boat: “This is the classic story of our whole life situation. There are a lot of empty boats out there that we’re always screaming at and shaking our fists at.”

Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho writes: “Such is the perfect man – his boat is empty; there is nobody inside. If you meet a Chuang Tzu, or a Lao Tzu, or me, the boat is there, but it is empty; nobody is in it.”

So here are three perspectives on the empty boat metaphor, take from it what you can. And don’t be too quick to delete your photos just because they aren’t perfect, sometimes there’s a story there, even if it’s just and empty boat. And apparently, it’s always an empty boat.

Beginner’s Mind

Simple pleasures
Simple pleasures

In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes; “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

What he calls beginner’s mind refers to doing something without thinking about achieving anything, which could be recognition, likes on a Facebook page, or a tweet by the President and a free room for life in one of his hotels.

Last night I spent two frustrating hours taking photos of colored pencils for a piece I wanted to write called selective focus. It was to be about the way we get caught up in our own bullshit by the way we think, and what we think about. So of course the photo had to be tack sharp, it had to be perfect.

Finally I decided the whole thing was pointless and gave up, putting the pencils in an old cigar box along with some crayons I had for another project on color. I looked over and saw something that was random and perfect and nothing special (also the title of a fantastic book by Charlotte Joko Beck).

I took six photos for the simple reason that I thought it was cool. Yes, I shot RAW and JPEG in manual on a tripod, but people don’t change overnight. And it was absolutely perfect in its own way! It’s a simple photo of crayons in an old cigar box given to me by my father 20 years ago.

So at 2 am last night I had an epiphany and it was free, there is true joy in doing something just because its fun. I can’t wait to tell this to my therapist next week when I pay my bill. She might tell me that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I have a feeling she’ll read more into this than there really is.

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi?
Wabi-Sabi?

Wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature.

In this case, it’s a broken piano that was left outside the old Weavertown one room schoolhouse for over a year. I felt it was beautiful, imperfect and incomplete. As for it being impermanent, the schoolhouse is now an antique store and the piano is no longer there. Time marches on.

Learning To Fly

Learning To Fly
Learning To Fly

I think many of us forget that there was a time when anything seemed possible. For me it’s easy to focus on all the things that I can’t do, the things that I’m afraid to do, and with my self imposed limitations I create my own small world, my own prison.

I want to relearn that in reality, there is really nothing to lose, and that the sky’s the limit.

Impermanence

Snowdrops
Snowdrops

Every spring I visit the Garden Of Five Senses in Lancaster County Central Park to see the snowdrops. They come up in February and within a very short time bloom into the most amazing flowers I’ve ever seen, with small bell shaped pedals with just a touch of green on them. Then a couple of weeks later they’re gone, completely gone, as if they were never there.

It’s easy to see changes over time but to watch them happen this fast is really something to appreciate. Of course, people don’t want to be reminded of impermanence so it’s usually a passing thought, then another thought pops in like what’s for lunch?

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen said this; “Intelligent Practice always deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence, the fear that I am not. And of course I am not, but the last thing I want to know is that. I am impermanence itself in a rapidly changing human form that appears solid. I fear to see what I am: an ever changing energy field. I don’t want to be that.”

Depending on how far you really get into this whole nothingness thing, you’ll find it either terrifying or enlightening, or both.

Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying wrote; “I shall never forget when Dudjom Rinpoche, in a moment of intimacy, leaned toward me and said in his soft, hoarse, slightly high-pitched voice: “You know, don’t you, that actually all these things around us go away, just go away . . .”

Alrighty then, what’s for lunch?

The Struggle

The Struggle
The Struggle

Everyone struggles in one way or another, its part of living this life of illusion. Whether it’s the ten thousand things or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, there are challenges to be dealt with every day.

For the man in this photo his struggle at that moment was to inflate the balloon, for me it was trying to get a decent shot before I ran out of patience, for the owner of the United States Hot Air Balloon Team, his was waiting for the wind to die down enough to launch safely.

No big deal right? Yet some challenges are harder than others. For one person it might be your supermodel wife telling you that there is no caviar left, and that she scratched the Ferrari, again. For another it might be a denied parole and your cell mate telling you that he wants to be more than just friends.

One of my favorite authors, Charles Bukowski once said; “I don’t know about other people, but when I wake up in the morning and put my shoes on, I think, Jesus Christ, now what?” So it would seem that for some life is harder than for others. But wait…

In his poem How Is Your Heart, he reflects on the rougher times in his life. Jail, bad relationships, hangovers, backalley fights and hospitals, but looks at it in a different way. The last line in that poem is so perfect that people actually have it tattooed on their body, which is tricky because its 11 words.

He wrote; “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

At once time I considered getting that tattoo on my arm, but struggled with the choice of fonts. Decisions, decisions, decisions.