who minds the flow of life?

Listen to this spiritual talk. You may download, but please do not repost.


Earlier this week, I read a newspaper account of a George Floyd death-anniversary commemoration. The article said the Minnesota governor “issued a proclamation for a moment of silence lasting nine minutes and 29 seconds, the amount of time a white officer’s knee remained on Mr. Floyd’s neck…” A “moment” he said should be 9:29 long. That declared duration gives a whole new meaning to our beloved term, “in the moment,” doesn’t it? Many of our significant “moments” last a long time, longer than one moment.

Out of respect, we dare not speculate about how Mr. Floyd – or Derek Chauvin, for that matter – perceived time during those nine-plus minutes. Or even if they did. What we can say, with some certainty, is that time is fluid – at least our perception of time is fluid. And that perception originates where? It originates in the mind. Zen Buddhism takes this matter of perception beyond the notion of time into the realm of form, by way of a koan. Here is Case 29, from the Mumonkan:

The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were having an argument about it. One said, “The flag is moving.” The other said, “The wind is moving.” They argued back and forth but could not reach the truth. The sixth patriarch said, “It is not the wind that moves. It is not the flag that moves. It is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe.

We today can certainly appreciate the inability of the two monks to see things from a common perspective. We see this blasted out before us in nearly every news report that comes out these days. What we can also see is the resolution to the argument presented by the sixth patriarch: “Not the wind; not the flag. It’s your mind that moves.” So, we have fluidity here, originating in the mind – just as we do with time.

Now, this is not to diminish the facts of worldly happenings: George Floyd was killed on a Minneapolis sidewalk. Nine people were shot dead in a San José railyard. California is in its latest drought. The United States is politically polarized. People all over the world are oppressed or victims of war and aggression. All of these things are conditions of our current existence. We’re not making them up.

Or aren’t we? Where do murder and polarization and war and destruction originate but in the mind? In the same way, joy and caring and cooperation and mutual concern originate in the mind. Our way of being within ourselves and with our fellows and with the planet begins in the mind, and we live it out from there. And just as the two monks of the koan were struck with awe at hearing and understanding the patriarch’s words, those with whom we come in contact can be struck with the force of our own truth, lived out loud: It’s all in our mind – yours, mine, and theirs.

Consider the sense of this koan in your being. Consider the fluidity that arises from mind. Carry it with you as you go about your daily life and as you encounter the world. See the effect of mind as it comes forth within and around you. Who knows what can happen then? Who minds the flow of Life?