Walking out of Amy's Sweet Vinyasa class at 8:45pm, my first thought is not very Zen. It's more Sailor or Truck Driver than Buddha. To be precise, it's shit. Shiiiiiiiiiiit, really--with at least that many exasperated i's. It's dark out. Past dusk, anyway. The air outside the studio is still summer-muggy, but the light is distinctly autumn-dim, a premonition. The days are growing shorter, my friends; there are things to say goodbye to for a while. Like hours of daylight for example, and swim suits, sandy feet, Oberon and two-for-one pints of blueberries.
This happens every time fall inches in, announcing itself always in evenings like this one, with a shifting angle of light and a sweet, shadowy nostalgia. Every September turns us inward again--indoors, into more stillness, in touch with endings and losses--some obvious, some vague. For me it starts with mourning daylight.
Looking ahead, I've heard rumors we're headed for another long, brutal winter. People keep saying it's going to be worse than the last one, which I can only imagine means we'll soon all be living in igloos and traveling by dogsled. I'm not 100% certain I'll be able to stay sane, come February or so, if that's the case.
But none of that matters, really; none of it exists. There's only this moment.
The good stuff doesn't last, the bad stuff doesn't last, and there's no guarantee the future's even gonna get here. We've all heard this before and we know it with our brains and also feel it somewhere deep down in our bones. In the autumn, this knowing is rheumatoid arthritis, and at the same time it's the hollowness that allows birds to fly. This is the season where change is so obviously atrophy and loss, and it's also the time it's most vibrant, most saturated and colorfully alive. Us humans often turn our deepest shades in autumn too, like plants, shifting our energy to let what's extra die and fall away so that what's necessary can thrive, even through a season covered in snow.
Master Dogan says, "When cold, be a cold Buddha. When hot, be a hot Buddha." Walking out of the studio tonight, I'm a Buddha not ready to let go. That is, until I look up and remember this moment, the only one that exists. It's perfect. In this case, it's solemn grey clouds lolling along, faintly backlit against a slate sky. Amazing clouds, artwork clouds, clouds like the kind I took dozens--hundreds?-- of photos of as a tourist this summer, when paying attention was part of the job description. This fall moment has my tourist-attention.
Winter will come with its hardships and its unexpected delights too, I'm sure--boots and scarves are pretty fun, for instance, and maybe I'll sit still long enough to do some more writing. I don't know. Doesn't matter. I'll have to be there to catch it. For now, there's just this moment: the gift of autumn's pretty clouds, disappearing. It's watching them darken while I'm pumping gas in flip flops on my way home.
Presence, present moment awareness, mindfulness--it has a bunch of names--this is not a new concept for me. In fact, I've been thinking about it, reading about it, writing heartsick poems and journaling about it for years. Despite that, it arrives to me again today as an epiphany. Maybe this time it will stick--I'll internalize it and live it more routinely. Or maybe not. Like I said: I don't know and it doesn't really matter. It's just this moment that matters: the gift of looking up and walking more slowly from class to the parking garage, then facing west while I pump my gas. It's simply being here, no matter where, even when it feels sad or scary, flexing gratitude and tourist-attention like two strong cosmic hands, wringing every last drop of daylight out of autumn's pretty, disappearing clouds.