My drive to work takes me a long way down Highway 30, and passing into St. Louis County I cross a bridge over the Meramec River. It was sunny this morning, and I looked out across the water to see the sunshine on the water and that feeling that one gets when one sees sunshine on water came over me, a summertime feeling, a warmth here in December.
People are, for the most part, pessimists. Life teaches that. I could say to myself how wonderful it is to experience this sunny morning here in December, to find that warm sense of a summer day filling me on the way to work. I could share this experience with the people I work with. But someone would say to me, as someone always does, ‘Yeah, it’s nice today, but we’ll pay for it.’ Meaning that the cold will return; that we have two and a half months at least of frigid days left to go. We’ll see more snow, more frost, more freezing rain and plenty of cloudy days with little sunshine to brighten our mood.
An essential part of Buddhist spirituality is living in the moment. Be here now: experience fully what is in front of you and don’t fret about tomorrow and tomorrow. It is a way of clearing your mind and soul. Live now. But Buddhism developed in India. Here in the West, we have trouble doing this. I think it has to do with seasonal cycles.
India is closer to the equator. Sure, it is a huge area–they call it a ‘subcontinent’– and there are different climatic regimes, including monsoons along the coasts. But it is for the most part a place without well defined seasons. Friedrich Nietzsche called it ‘the bud and the blossom at the same time.’ Its ancient mythologies, as varied as they are, include no notable tales of how seasons come about. Time, as a concept, as something ruling one’s life, is not as pervasive there as it is here.
We live in constant cycles of change. The world about us goes from one thing to the next to the next over and over in our lives. As soon as summer sets in we start thinking about September and the cool days of autumn. As soon as November brings the first frost, we long for April. Given this, it is very difficult to grasp the idea, or achieve the goal, of living in the moment. We tend to live always for a moment in the near future, which, when it arrives, will pass again. This leaves us quite literally pining our lives away waiting for something we know is transitory.
And so I pass over the Meramec, and I appreciate the sunlight gleaming across the water, but with my next breath I begin counting the number of cold days I have yet to endure this winter. So I think that when people say ‘we’ll pay for this,’ it means two things. Nature will present us with more cold days, and soon: that’s a given. But more than that, we will pay out a large portion of our hope, our optimism, our enjoyment of each simple moment in life with our constant pining for a better season.