Moment by moment, non-stop flow.

That is the response given by Touzi when asked to explain Zhaozhou’s answer to the question,“Does a newborn baby have consciousness?” Zhao replied, “It is like tossing a ball on rushing waters.”

(Blue Cliff Record Case 80)

Theoretical physicist Brian Greene points out that given the billions of years in time and likely trillions of galaxies in space, how profoundly improbable and singular it is for us to enjoy a latte at a sidewalk café in Manhattan. Or anywhere else. That gift is the inconceivable grandeur of the non-stop flow.

Last week I found myself hiking in Death Valley, California, a field of planetary extremes. With an elevation of -282 feet, it is one of the lowest points on terrestrial earth, and with annual rainfall of only 1.5 inches, it is historically one of the driest. Given its lack of vegetation and bowl shape, lying between two mountain ranges, Death Valley is also the hottest recorded place on earth at 134° F (56.7° C). 

Variability is its other extreme. In the past six months, Death Valley has received 4.5 inches of rain, twice generating a lake—the ranger quipped, “It is really a short-lived puddle,”—about two miles wide by four miles long and two feet deep. Each “puddle event” supposedly happens once every thousand years, geologists figure.

Yesterday morning I hiked through the Pacific Coast Range above Jenner, which lies at the mouth of the Russian River. The weather now sunny and clear after weeks of rain; my daughter invited me to join her mushroom-hunting class taught by a local mycologist. We spent several hours crawling through the bishop pine and tanoak forest, kicking up muddy duff and peeking under logs in search of edible mushrooms. One wag offered, “Aren’t all mushrooms edible?” and, seamlessly, the teacher came back, “Yes, but only once.” The life of a mushroom is a brief two weeks; it too is the non-stop flow.

The infinite space and micro-rhythms of our lives meet here, in the ordinary cup of caffé latte, matcha green tea, and kombucha (an acquired taste for me). The linked bits, the all of them, are like a river to be appreciated, appreciated, appreciated moment by moment. 

Greene says there was a long period before humans appeared in the universe, and there will be a long period after our species is gone. He called it, “Our brief flicker within the brief flicker.” He says, “On the one hand, it could be debilitating to imagine an eternal future of nothing. On the other, if we flip our perspective around, we allow ourselves the chance to explore, to love and to illuminate. Wow! How wonderful is that?!” 

—Jon Joseph

The Sweetness of Apples, of Figs

by Jane Hirshfield, from her newest book, The Asking: New and Selected Poems

In Bellini’s Painting,the usual angel
is not present,
only a man
opening his chest
to the world of
simple sheep
and goose and hare
in the strange light.
Book and skull,
the two wooden sandals,
lie forgotten
behind the open-lattice door.
Even his pin-pricked
hands, it seems, forgotten.
Again the holy striving
has given way
to ordinary joy.
It is mostly blues,
a little reddish-brown,
some green.