Loving Autumn is a Buddhist Act

mono-no-aware“I’m loving autumn this year.”

“I thought you didn’t like autumn.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’M GETTING BETTER.”

Global warming helps. We haven’t had a really bad winter since 2013-14, in which a handful of terrifying commutes left me in tears more than once. Cold-induced death doesn’t feel as imminent now as it was then, but it was never logical anyway. The odds of me dying in an icy car crash in the winter are no greater than the odds of me dying of heatstroke in the summer. (I’m not going to reference that; just go with me.)

Driving was only one road of terror. I think there were some times as a kid when I was not allowed to dress as warmly as I wanted to, and I know there were times when I was outside and cold against my will, so there’s some lingering emotional memory there. And then there was the winter of 2009-10 when I worked as a door-to-door canvasser. I had regular afternoon panic attacks as I tried to will myself out the door to face another night of begging in the freezing cold. It wasn’t just the temperature (walking around in winter at night isn’t so bad if you’re dressed right – and we fuckin knew how to dress right), but being repeatedly rebuked by strangers as I interrupted their evenings to resiliently pitch environmental causes and ask for money iced over my core, and the windchill dropped with the added pressure of having to hit a financial quota every week or lose my job, leaving me so bone-cold that I couldn’t get warm enough to sleep at night, no matter how thick the down comforter.

I’ve never loved fall because I fear winter. And I fear winter, clearly, not for the cold. What I really fear is being out of control in the cold, as if I weren’t out of control year-round. And when you carry that fear, fall is just an opening act for winter. Literally the calm before the storm. But fucking A, autumn is gorgeous. Such beauty in the transition of death and dormancy. I learned the concept of Mono No Aware while doing a play about Japanese art. That’s what those characters in the headline image above stand for. (Supposedly. I don’t read Japanese. The internet could trick me into promoting elephant tusks as an anti-depressant for all I know.) You can look it up yourself for an accurate definition, but to my understanding it is the ambivalent appreciation of the inevitability of transience, the wistful recognition of the passing of everything, the idea that all things are more valuable because they do not last, which is artistically expressed in the trope that things are most beautiful as they are dying. Nothing exemplifies that more perfectly than autumn.

I’ll throw in Jason Isbell here, too. I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I have fallen in love with no less with three of his songs on first listen, which almost never happens to me. I don’t know if I’ll love those songs forever, but that kind of brings me back to the point. In his most recent single (on The Current anyway), which had me tearing up on the way to work, he sings that “it’s not” (referent poetically absent) all the amazing things about “you,” but the inevitable end of their time together that makes it special:

If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand

When I’ve locked in on the coming cold and dark, I’ve missed the inconceivable colors, the smells, the softening air on my ever decreasing spans of exposed skin, holding hands without gloves or discomfort. I’ll dig out my thigh-high socks, add another cowl to the collection, and gather new soup recipes for the long months ahead, but I’m lucky enough to be here now this season. I can’t promise another day of black ice won’t pull me back, but it’s really, really nice to love fall.

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Buddhish Moments in Pop Culture, #1

perksI found The Perks of Being a Wallflower crammed into my friend’s bookshelf as I was waiting for the group to gather for hardcore boardgame play. I loved the movie, and it turns out I went to school with the writer (and director), and he’s apparently a good guy, so I borrowed the book and gobbled it down in less than 24 hours.

I don’t let myself indulge in fiction often anymore. And while I know that’s ridiculous, it still helps me to get off my own back if I can make a mini-blog out of it.

Or one moment of it, anyway.

Charlie is our limited narrator – a quiet, observant high school freshman who carries a semi-dormant, unspecified mental illness and few meaningful friendships until he meets Patrick and Emma – lively step-siblings in their final year of high school who take him under their wing. That’s all the background you need for the moment. You don’t really even need that, but why would you want to read about a moment in the life of an anonymous character?

… we all got quiet
Sam tapped her hand on the steering wheel. Patrick held his hand outside the car and made air waves. And I just sat between them. After the song finished, I said something.
“I feel infinite.”
And Sam and Patrick just looked at me like I said the greatest thing they ever heard. Because the song was so great and because we all really paid attention to it. Five minutes of a lifetime were truly spent, and we felt young in a good way.

I should just let that stand as is, but as J.D. Salinger once wrote, “Zoe’s voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.” (shout out to my JD homies, whutwhut!)

I read a Paul Tillich book in a Christian Doctrine class in grad school, and it’s my earliest memory of thinking of the idea of “God” as synonymous with the infinite, as an existence distinct from the mortality of everything we can experience with our senses. This brought that back again, but couched in a simple, everyday example of how a moment “truly spent” is divine in every sense of the word. Because if the only reality that actually exists is the present moment – if the future and the past are illusory – then fully living that moment makes us immortal in that moment, which is literally everything.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Book Review for a 46-Year-Old Book: Be Here Now by Ram Dass

be here nowIf I had not known of the joyous awesomeness that is Ram Dass, I never would have read this book.  I’ve had a lot of luck in my life judging books by their covers and this one would not have received a fair trial. It is a perfect square, with a cover that reads the same whether you’re holding it like a literate adult, or glancing at it sideways, semi-conscious, or doing a headstand in front of it, and that is only the beginning of its material weirdness. Continue reading “Book Review for a 46-Year-Old Book: Be Here Now by Ram Dass”

Of Mindfulness and Magic

I studied my forehead like I’d done almost every morning for the last year, observing closely just how much the scar between my eyebrows had faded, or if it had gotten worse, and then feeling a frustration rise up in my throat, a tightening of my neck muscles as I remembered the moment when I endured the injury that gave me the scar: cutting across a parking lot and walking headlong into a wire stretched so taut it was like walking into a brick archway. Continue reading “Of Mindfulness and Magic”