By Karin Ryuku Kempe
Some weeks ago my watch stopped working. Because I wasn’t able to get it fixed, it’s been in the top drawer of my desk and I’ve had a chance to be without it. Actually, I find I don’t need it, although at first I did check my bare wrist from time to time. After all, time measured out minute by minute, hour by hour, is an external construct, and there are plenty of clocks about the house if I need to keep track.
The experience of time passing, especially the tyranny of time, is something else altogether. During these weeks at home, some of us have had the sensation of everything slowing down; more of our life is unscheduled. Those of us who work online may feel keenly the difference between the rigidity of the virtual landscape, or even face-to-face demands, and those unfilled stretches which seem to unfold and fill themselves. And those of us who make our own schedules notice the tendency to fill the spaces with plans or maybe a conscious decision to let the day unfold organically. It feels a bit like falling.
The Israeli historian philosopher Yuval Noah Harari wrote in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century that the Buddha “taught that the three basic realities of the universe are that everything is constantly changing, nothing has any enduring essence, and nothing is completely satisfying…You can explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy, of your body, or of your mind, but you will never encounter something that does not change, that has an eternal essence, and that completely satisfies you.”
True…and yet we find we can be satisfied, we can be at ease. What makes that ease possible is our capacity to come to awareness, to be attentive, awake in the midst of this stream we call time. We might call it mindfulness, but that word implies someone who is being mindful of something, a pulling apart of that organic mix into a subject-object relationship. Maybe whole-hearted awareness lives more like a verb; we experience ourselves as what we are experiencing. I seem to remember a quote about Chao-chou: “Most people are used by the twenty-four hours; I use the twenty-four hours.” More like, “I am the twenty-four hours.”
One monk asked his teacher, “What is the everlasting reality?”
“When moving, what then?”
His teacher said: “Then you can’t see the everlasting reality.” (Book of Equanimity, Case 75)
Like diving into water without knowing its temperature, we are always jumping in. Remember learning to dive? You can’t hold on. Try taking off your watch for a bit. What then?