What do people need?
In recent months, I’ve revisited Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and some of the Zen ideas and teachings therein have wended their way into my consciousness. Reminds me of snippets of Buddhism I’ve absorbed over the years, such as the interconnectivity of all beings.
“A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again.”A Tale for the Time Being, p.194
A wave is a person is alive is dead is the same thing. The narrator goes on to lament that one cannot hold on to water, to the people we love. “…still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”
More recently, other ideas about how fleeting human life is in the scale of geologic or universe time have bubbled up. I wish I could cite the articles or podcasts that resurfaced this idea, but it’s not uncommon. Perhaps it was this:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”Lao Tzu (as quoted in Frugaling’s Ownership Isn’t Real, We Rent This Life)
And I’ve picked up another of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels, and so have remembered Aurora, and the perils of a generation starship. What are we preserving, when we rocket a probe into the stars?
Another idea that’s gained prominence in my mind recently is the emphasis, in some cultures, not on individuals or even the group, but on the culture itself. The peoples’ practices.
In high school, I hit upon the belief that the point of life is to defy extinction. I’ve come back around to this, with some additions.
The point of human life, broadly, is
To defy extinction
To perpetuate the species
To make meaning of existence
To reproduce culture
So…what is our culture? As families, as communities, as municipalities, as states, as a nation? (USA context, here.)
What is worth reproducing? Passing on? Changing? Leaving behind?
And what role do we play, as fleeting time beings? Given that most of us are unremarkable outside of those who know us, I’ve started to believe that what is important is family, chosen biological or otherwise. That is where our attention can make a difference. Where we transmit values and cultural practices. Where we make meaning.
Ozeki’s work reminds me of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower ~ the only lasting truth is change ~
“Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”A Tale for the Time Being, p.408
[I mistyped “flows” as “flowers” just now. A freudian typo?]
So many people have lived
And what does it mean,
to truly “live our lives”?
What life is worthy of living?
How do we fully honor, appreciate
The unlikely circumstance
now, this moment, mindfulness meditation, and its capitalist twisting, unrooted from its Buddhist origins*, how can we be present for one another, make meaning together, create something lasting knowing that lasting is relative and relatively hopeless beyond a few generations ~ we last, endure, relationally, with our relations ~
“human consciousness is neither more nor less than the clouds and water, or the hundreds of grasses”A Tale for the Time Being, p.409
we are all star stuff
*Listen to the Upstream Podcast’s conversation with Ron Purser for more on “McMindfulness“