Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reclaiming Eternity

Shunryu Suzuki.  Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.  Boston: Weatherhill, 1970.  ISBN: 0834800799.

One of the hardest things about falling out of my original Mormon faith was losing what Latter-day Saints like to refer to as "the eternal perspective."  As a Saint, I knew who, where, and what I would be forever, pending my performance on the test that is this mortal life.  I dealt with pain in the present by imagining a glorious future where it would not matter (or might even provide the same kind of pleasure that veterans get from showing their scars and reminiscing).  Part of what destroyed this perspective for me was seeing how bad some suffering is for people, and how callously some LDS (and Christians in general) can be toward that suffering as a result of their conviction that isn't real (like heaven) or doesn't matter (the way heaven does).  I realized that focusing on the future at all costs not only alleviates pain in the present (for some people); it also causes (or amplifies) it (at least in certain circumstances).  It was hurting me, since in the present I could never convince myself that I was living up to the standard that would guarantee my eternal future (or receiving the grace that would secure that future in spite of anything that might happen: either I wasn't good enough, or Jesus wasn't there for me; either way, the result was the same: I was continually anxious about my eternal salvation).  Still, I clung to that (imaginary) future as my one hope, my solid anchor in a world always changing and often unfriendly.  When exploring my own psyche and Christian history (in which I include the history of the LDS) completely severed this anchor, I was pretty devastated.

Suzuki was one of many people who threw me a lifeline at this point.  If I could summarize what he taught me in Zen Mind, it would look something like this: past and future are illusions; the only real thing is the eternal now.  Eternal relationships are vital now, at this very moment.  They do not depend on yesterday, or tomorrow, or anything outside of the breath that comes in and goes out right now.  You cannot be good in the past or the future, but you can be good now.  You cannot be married in the past or the future, but you can be married now.  You cannot repent of the past or the future, but you can repent now.  Birth, death, and the whole cycle of life in between is at once real and unreal: things do change, but they also stay the same.  I enjoy waking up in the morning, seeing the sky, smelling the flowers, listening to the birds, and being alive in the moment.  If for some reason I cannot see, or smell, or hear, or otherwise perceive external phenomena, I still enjoy thinking.  I also enjoy sleep, a different kind of thought, and when it becomes the sleep from which none wake (as far as we know), who is to say that I will not enjoy that just as much?  Death is just another alteration in consciousness, unreal until we meet it in the eternal now.  As there is no use being scared of birth, so there is no use being scared of death.  Meaning outside of the present is dangerous, because it leads us to ignore the one thing we have, which is this very moment.  Carpe diem!