I’m a terrible Zen Buddhist. Every day, paradise invites me through the door and I miss the invitation. Today at school, I stepped outside my class for five minutes and sat in the sun and the veil of ignorance started to part. I’ve had these rare moments before, when the clock that ticks from one scheduled event to the next stops and the world opens up as it is — a luminous present now. All our yearnings for the fabled grails of our longing cease because they are fulfilled in the simple act of being wholly aware and alive in this moment. No French dessert, love letter from the movie star of our dreams, announcement of the Pulitzer Prize or job promotion can improve our happiness one iota.
Back into my responsible work life, each day bears the stamp of its schedule and each hour is marked by the class of children who appear in my room. I’m having a great time with them, enjoying the music we’re making, the dances we’re dancing, the opportunities they have to show me their prodigious imagination. I do my work to plan these classes ahead of time, dutifully mark them afterward in my record book, go to the required staff meetings and show up at my carpool duty. It all is pleasurable, satisfying, fun and fulfilling.
But like so many of us, I get into the routine of setting up each class like bowling pins to be knocked down and scored, a list of obligations to be fulfilled and gotten through until… what? Well, the evening when I can catch up on Downton Abby or cook a nice dinner or play piano— at least, in-between answering e-mails and planning the next day’s classes.
But today reminded me that each moment of each day is an opportunity to savor the miracles at the turn of each breath, a chance to part the curtains of the time-crunched world and inhale a healthy dose of eternity. Even morning zazen meditation can feel like a habitual routine to simply tone the spirit rather than a heavy-duty drill to break through the rock of our illusions. But working at this glorious school, I have a better chance than most to remember. I spend my days with these innocent creatures so far from mortality’s dripping hourglass, so fresh from that other world behind the curtains, each day a playground filled with skinned knees and bruised feelings, but mostly an exuberant swinging on the monkey bars of the minutes, swinging to the skies and playing in the dirt. If I stop to notice, the children can infect me with their untrammeled Buddha nature and remind me that my day is not to just gotten through. If I am to get through anything, it is that veil that separates time from timelessness, a future paradise from the one right here, right now.
See you on the other side. (Where we already are.)