Carpe Diem: A Small Reflection on Zen & the Moment We Get

Carpe Diem: A Small Reflection on Zen & the Moment We Get March 2, 2019



Horace famously wrote “Carpe diem, quad minimum credula postero.” Which translates roughly as Seize the day, don’t put faith in tomorrow.”

And, well…

I have just done an astonishingly silly thing. I have accepted a ministry. On April 1st I will become the part-time minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim. At the very same time we are launching an expanded range of practice and study opportunities for our Orange County branch of the Empty Moon Zen Network.

Some friends have noted the April 1st launch and how that seems totally appropriate.

No doubt on the one hand, my taking this on at 70 is a bit of a reach.

Rummaging around the interwebs, I see statistics which suggest I have a 70% chance of living a decade more, 45% chance of living fifteen years more, 20% of making it twenty years, and 1% of living thirty more years.

Of course, there’s also quality of life. And, it looks by the time one hits seventy-five serious health issues begin to impinge upon one’s abilities both physical and often cognitive. Anecdotally, well, my mother-in-law is ninety-one as I write this and she’s sharp as a tack, lives on her own, drives, if with some self-imposed restrictions. But, the numbers are generally less comforting.

According to the Wikipedia article on old age one categorization of the range of old age suggests young-old between sixty and seventy, middle-old between seventy and eighty, and, well, if you get beyond that you’re old-old. Another study marks with sixty-five to seventy-five for the young-old. And the two subsequent decades for middle-old and old-old. As a general rule within our culture, just looking around, I suspect that later categorization is more accurate.

But, every individual is an individual and within some outer limits – show me anyone two hundred years old, and I’ll show you a fraud – we each follow our own trajectory. And, I do know as I walk down the street and glance into the reflection in windows that someone has substituted an image of an old man for the person I feel like. And, to be honest. My memory isn’t what it used to be. There are aches and pains. Funny things begin to grow on my skin.

The Buddha said everything made of parts will in time come apart.

Still, what I’ve lost in intellectual capacity I feel I’ve gained in cunning. My health seems passible for the moment. I am bubbling with thoughts and plans and schemes. So, for the moment. For the moment. Jan, my spouse, I notice, while completely a part of this project has turned much of her attention to the next step. What to do when stepping up and away from the pillow. For her it is the endless work of mercy and justice.  Her expression of the completeness of practice.

And I turn to my heart’s calling. This new ministry. In both its aspects. The aspect of serving a small congregation that can use an experienced hand at the tiller. And the aspect of developing something on its way to being a full-service Zen center.

Here’s the good thing about how this is coming together. I am confident within a decade I will not be in charge of either activity.

But in the moment.

This one. Not some other.

What I do has consequences. What I don’t do has consequences.

Really, it’s just as it always has been. But, I get it in a way I never fully did, perhaps could, before.

Carpe Diem. Seize the moment.

Reminds me of a koan. Yunmen asked his assembly, “I don’t ask you about before the 15th of the month. Tell me something about after the 15th.” No one spoke, so he responded himself, “Every day is a good day.”

This isn’t a complete non sequitur. The 15th is the time of the full moon, and is a common metaphor in East Asia for the moment of awakening. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt to note that Yunmen lived in harsh, politically unstable times, where armies were on the march and famine and hunger and danger the common currency of the day, So it would be very hard to find the phrase “every day is a good day” meaning “don’t worry, be happy.” No smiley faces in this assertion.

Anyone who thinks the call of presence within the spiritual project means only this moment without reference to past or future hasn’t thought it through. That kind of presence is a kind of death. The real presence of insight, of wisdom, of possibility is rich with the past and future.

What I am so grateful for is this opportunity to be of use. To continue to be of use. A day. A week. A year. Ten.

Whatever. Precious.

This good day.

A dance.

So grateful to be a part of it…

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