“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.”
— Dan Sullivan
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
— Buckaroo Banzai
One semester when I was in college and in need of electives to fill out my schedule, some friends mentioned they were looking into a class on Buddhism. I previously took a course on near eastern religion (Christianity, Judaism, & Islam), and figured this would be a good continuation of that deep dive.
Early on in the course, the professor used a metaphor to explain the idea that reincarnation had a lot of misconceptions around it.
As I remember it:
Imagine a film strip. Thousands of individual pictures. Thousands of moments. When you run the strip through a projector, it looks like you’re watching one continuous moving picture, but that’s just an illusion created by your mind.
You’re watching a series of moments that begin and end.
So instead of thinking of reincarnation as you are born, you live however many years you live, you die, and then you come back, think about how every single moment is like one frame of a movie.
The moment begins. You are there. Then it ends, and you are not. And it all happens so rapidly that it doesn’t even seem like they’re separate moments
You are born in that moment and you die in that moment, over and over.
Which would mean that there is very little difference between two frames that you believe are part of the same life, and two frames where you become a new self.
The film strip keeps moving, feeding each frame through, but each frame is only a single moment. You just believe that they’re showing continuous action because that’s how it appears to you.
If you wanted to pitch a film student on accepting the Buddhist worldview of non-being, that’s a damn good way to do it.
I don’t talk about this often, because despite all my reading and time spent meditating on my own, I’ve never sought out a community of other people walking this path. It’s been personal and mostly solitary, and in some ways that made me feel like I’m doing it wrong.
But even my limited glimpse of this larger world has helped me in ways I wish I could have seen earlier in my life.
I’m a person who survives with depression, and because of that, it can get easy to be pulled out of experiencing the moment and replay the past, or to see what’s happening in the present moment as part of an endless string of negative, connected events. It’s easy to construct a narrative tying together your worst feelings or lowest moments when you can’t separate out one moment from the others.
But the mindful awareness I try to tap into through meditation isn’t just about calming these impulses. It’s about working to focus my attention on what matters in the moment.
One quote I’ve recently grabbed onto about the effect of honing in on just one moment at a time:
“One day at a time. One. Day. And beyond this, one thought, one moment, one heartbeat. This, by the way, is why we practice meditation, which is not a life hack to become more awesome. Meditation is a path of fierce warriorship. It teaches you how to meet your experience on the spot, without embellishment, fully and courageously”Susan Piver, Lion’s Roar
I’m writing this now, and opening up more about this part of me, because it feels like a time for fierce warriorship.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the endless refresh cycle, checking social media and news sites for updates on what we should fear and feel angry about.
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a global threat, especially one that seems invisible and nigh-invulnerable to direct human intervention.
And there’s a massive gravitational pull from the fear of what might happen to those closest to us, and how our personal worlds could be made much more empty by a disease for which there is no vaccine, no scientifically-proven cure, and a paucity of resources to properly treat those afflicted if its spread is allowed to go unchecked.
It’s all so much, and it all seems to keep building and getting worse.
And yet, for those of us still fortunate enough to stay healthy, we are here in this moment.
So I ask you to consider, if you’re able, and if you’re willing, to try to confront this moment on its terms, as it exists, and not through the lens of fear or anger.
Because we can do nothing for ourselves or each other if we shut off. If we let the enormity of this all pin us down and hold us powerless, we can lose sight of our role and our strength.
And without a clear understanding of our strength, it can be hard to find hope.
I know the full Buddhist toolkit isn’t for everyone. I know because I haven’t taken it all on myself. But I have gotten some help from some of these texts:
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
- Mindfulness in Plain English
- Handmade (Not exclusively a Buddhist text, but one that talks about the importance of focus and mindful attention)
- The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
Or if you just want to dip your toe in first before committing to a whole book, this blog post from Rebecca Toh I linked to on Twitter the other day is a good way to test the waters.
It’s something I hope you’ll consider right now, especially if you’re a person staying at home for the good of your community, or by necessity. It can be easy when sheltering in place for an extended time to feel like every day is part of one endless slog.
Maybe it will help you to feel less like the days are all repeating or merging together if you’re alone.
Maybe it could help you treat the people you are staying inside with with more patience and grace, and see their actions as existing in only this moment, instead of part of a narrative you’re stringing together during your extended time bottled up together.
Maybe it will help you feel like less of a passive observer of events and consider ways you can offer help to those in need.
Even if it’s only for the space of one breath, or the time it takes to wash your hands, maybe it will help you step outside of the narratives hanging over you and find some space to be the kind of fierce, compassionate warrior this world needs right now.