Friday, March 11, 2005

A moment--or, Dogen steps outside of time

The Japanese Zen guy Dogen, in his mysterious essay called Uji, usually translated as "time-being," said counterintuitively that "each moment is all being, and is the entire world." The thing is, most moments don't seem as significant as the "entire world." I dunno about your moments but mine do not get very remarkable most of the time, but a few days ago I experienced one which gave me a view of what Dogen may have been talking about, in a way that surprised me.

I was mowing the area around the garden, which is some way from the house, a hundred feet or so--I rarely mow this part of the yard, preferring weeds and habitat for rabbits and birds. Kay always preferred it mowed, so we usually compromised. But she’s dead now, and it's weedier. The weeds have gone to stubble, and are dried up after the winter and are a fire hazard, so I was out there running the lawnmower, not thinking of anything at all, and as I was about finished I looked toward the house--it was a beautiful late afternoon--and something, not yet a thought exactly, but a feeling right before a thought, overtook me and stopped me in my tracks. It was a "hey, it's getting late--it's time for Kay to come home" thing, and with that moment came a sense that she would be very pleased when she made her way thru the house and came out the back door and saw what I was doing.

I was transfixed when the feeling, which had a lot of happiness in it, got overtaken microseconds later by a consciousness that Kay would never be coming home. These two events were imperceptibly separated in time, but were welded together into the entire world. It was very odd. It was like the past and the present became one and stepped out of the temporal altogether.

But that's what we normally think a moment is, anyway--the combination of past and present. It's just that the past component of our moment-consciousness is usually the short term memory of what is immediately preceding the uncatchable knife-edge now, not a sudden slip into a past three years gone. When a three year old short-term memory gets into a present moment it is, as we try to keep saying in Austin, weird.

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