The Clock Isn’t Ticking

July 6, 2012 § 15 Comments

Conventional notions of time management suggest that we can carve up the future into discrete packages and then use those packets of time wisely.  We are told- you must be efficient in your use of time.  After all, your personal allocation of time is finite and the clock is ticking.

But this conception of time actually understates its precious quality.   Time has no existence for us apart from this very moment.  Right now we can act and choose.  That is all we have.  No tomorrow, no next week.

So how then do we think about time and its use- on a practical level?

Years ago I went through a period where most days I spent hours playing a simple computer game called Minesweeper.   I got very good at that game.  I don’t know what compelled me to use my time in that way, perhaps a reaction to a writing block, not sure.

You could say that I wasted all those hours, time ill spent, time lost to me forever.  But perhaps it was time well spent.  Those Minesweeper hours might have been a sort of therapy or respite to calm my busy, anxious mind.

Embracing the Zen conception of time, you would skip all that- all the harsh judgments, as well as all the convenient rationalizations.  You would not waste a single moment looking backward to judge the quality or utility of the time you spent playing Minesweeper or doing whatever.  That time is gone.  Looking backward is pointless.  Judging ourselves is corrosive.

We will plan, we will make our appointments, we will think about tomorrow, of course.  But in the doing, in the living of life, time truly has no existence apart from this moment.  If we stay centered in the present moment as consistently as we can, we will use each moment as well as we can.  That’s it.

In other words, the clock isn’t ticking because there is no clock, really.  Just now, that’s all.

Out of Control

June 13, 2012 § 12 Comments

Feeling unable to control what is happening around us can make us crazy in our heads.  We cannot make our children do what we know they should.  We cannot influence our political leaders to act responsibly and fairly.   We cannot stop the degradation of our planet by the forces of rapacious greed.

The same is true in our day-to-day existence.  Traffic jams, flight delays, barking dogs, broken appliances.  Relentless chaos.

We often say we feel “out of control” or that we have “lost control.”  But this is all a big mistake.

The truth is that we didn’t “lose control” over things; we never possessed it to begin with.  We control nothing except how we choose to exist in our place and moment- right here and right now.  Everyone else, everything else, exists beyond the perimeters of our capacities.

This is not a recipe for giving up or indifference.  We must act and care.  As we model the life we choose to live, our children watch us.  As we act in the spirit of public service, we may inspire our neighbors.  Attending to another person with love and care is a very powerful thing.

What we do matters.  Each of us changes the world by our existence.  Just not according to some design or plan.

If we can give up our illusions of control, we might then devote ourselves to the one thing that is within our grasp- the opportunity to live with strength, focus, and a sure sense of self- moment to moment.

That’s all there is.  But it’s more than enough.

No Bridges

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

We are often told that we must build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be.  We must chart our course; we must plan our future.

And yet in Zen we say that you do not do something today in the hope that this will gain you something tomorrow.   Our way rejects such “gaining ideas.”

Of all the tenets of Zen, this one feels most at odds with life as we live it.  It seems that we ceaselessly employ gaining ideas.  In the simplest instance, I heat the water to gain the tea.  Or I write this post to gain the reader.  We act in the present for the purpose of gaining some future outcome, all the time.

Still, I embrace this Zen teaching- in the following way.

We will plan, of course.  But we must avoid consciously attaching an instrumental purpose to any activity.  The moment that I start thinking about the ends, I lose myself between the present and the future.  I am no longer just making the tea or just writing the post.  I am trying to do something and scheme about the doing all at once.  Yogi Berra famously said: “It’d hard to think and bat at the same time.”  He was right- and not just about baseball.

So the first reason to be skeptical of this bridge-building metaphor is the way in which it can take us away from the present moment.  But there’s also another reason.

The metaphor of a bridge is too solid, too linear.  If you really think about your life, it never works that way- at least not with regard to your larger plans and ambitions.  You plan and scheme and imagine the line of events that will take you from here to there.  But how often has that set of dominoes toppled according to plan?

So plan ahead, as you must.  But remember that our bridges are made of smoke, soon to be swept away in an unknowable future.

Knowing this, we must remain open and ready, agile and fluid.  And we must always, always keep our focus on the one place and time that is actually in our hands- the here and the now.

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