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Lessons in Timber


Last week I took a short break to Maine, spending a few nights in a lovely house atop a shallow cove. Across the water there was a smattering of orange and red foliage, and it was explained that trees start to drop their leaves when the angle of the sun changes. To me, this demonstrated a remarkably acute sense of awareness and I, in turn, suddenly felt less enlightened than a sapling.

But let’s rewind...

My teacher once told our Tuesday sangha that he noticed that the instant our sit was brought to a close, we all leaped up, darted to the door and mindlessly shuffled back into the flow of traffic outside.  He has been diligent ever since to suggest that we “pay attention to the transitions,” and the words have been ringing in my head for some time now.

Pay attention to the transitions.  Got it.  Off I go.

Ever the good student, I’ve been noting what happens to me between events, say, the moment between sitting and standing, or the moment between waiting for the train and the ride itself, or what happens after tiring of reading but before reaching for my phone.  I even stopped outside a building for a few minutes before entering, taking care to feel my feet on the ground and allowing the sounds of the city to pass through me.

The practice has served me well, even if the result is often the realization of how mindless the moments in between can be.  Somehow we give the “main event,” be it the subway or the phone or getting to the meeting, more significance than the moments that precede it.  Practically speaking, it may have some weight, but spiritually speaking, it’s certainly not the case. A moment is a moment is a moment... yes?

But what has since dawned on me, with considerable embarrassment, is that while I was busy becoming an expert at identifying the passing moments in a day, I had all but ignored the transitions inherent in, say, a season.  And when summer drew to a close recently, it landed with an unexpectedly loud thud.

And now I’m thinking about those trees a lot.

Our practice asks us to live moment to moment, developing an awareness of all that is happening, and allowing for what is happening to simply be whatever it may be. Presumably, out of this, the skill to then consider the larger transitions comes naturally. But I wonder if some version of the “forest for the trees” question might be at play here. (I’m not sure why all the metaphors have a woodsy theme today, but I digress...)

So... how long is a moment? The question may sound like the beginning of a riddle, or the subject of a koan, but it’s worth considering.

Is a moment defined as precise point in time, something that lasts a few seconds, perhaps a minute, at best? Or can a moment in time be a week, a month, a season? Ultimately, the point may be moot, I know. Time just... is. On some intellectual level still beyond my comprehension, dividing and dissecting time can be as fruitless an exercise as slicing water.

But for those of us who still wear watches and look at clocks, we might deepen our practice by noticing seasonal transitions with the same care we take to notice the act of a single breath. And could there possibly be a better time to practice this than right now?

If we don’t, we may well look up and notice that all the leaves have changed.

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Yes, not only are the transitions of the human origin fascinating, but the transitions of all that is put before us, is simply exhausting if you will, but to actually get a grip on the fact that everything changes..... is spiritual !

Vito J. Giambalvo

Great post Edoardo!

Funny, I was just *not* noticing the fall's first breezes this evening. Great reminder!!


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