Life is tough...and transient

Shambhala Sun just sent me the pdf of Norman Fischer's article, Life is Tough - 6 ways to deal with it, from the March issue of the magazine, so I thought I'd share it here. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it's a great article about the Lojong slogans, and his book, Training in Compassion, which I'm reading now, is even better. Today I'm studying slogan #2: See everything as a dream. Here's a little bit of what Norman says about it:

Everything is always passing away. That's just how it is in this world. As soon as something appears, in that same moment, it's already gone. Everything that exists in time is like this, appearing and disappearing in a flash. That's what we mean when we say "time is passing."

Now it is today. Where did yesterday go, and where is tomorrow now? You can't say. Nor is it really clear where today—where now—is. As soon as you try to figure it out, it is already gone. Since this is so, you have to wonder whether it was ever really here to begin with...

Reading this, I can trace so clearly the influence of Norman's thinking and teaching on A Tale for the Time Being. I can also hear the echoes of Dogen Zenji's beautiful fascicle "Uji" or "The Time-Being." After my mother's death, I spent several years studying these Zen teachings on impermanence, and the outcome of this study was a novel. Who could know?

This evening, as I was walking through the forest on my way back from a neighbor's house, life really felt like a dream. It was getting dark. The mist was hanging low in the trees. Drops of rain clung to the tips of the cedar boughs. The ground was spongy and deep, and the moss, clinging to the dark wet bark of the fir trees was brilliantly green. At least that's what I remember.

Norman writes that everything is a memory, even while it's happening. Research in neuroscience has demonstrated that the brain registers experience a moment after it occurs, so by the time it occurs to us that we're experiencing something, it's already over. Life, as we think we're living it, is always a dream. It's always an illusion. This sense of the fleeting and ephemeral is at the heart of the Japanese term wabi-sabi, which refers to the exquisite, dreamlike beauty of impermanence, simplicity and imperfection. This is an aesthetic ideal I aspire to as a writer.