Vertigo and the Zen of Rebirth at Every Moment
The other day I found myself replying to a post from @tarakp, and I was talking about how I have changed. (This post) Specifically, he was talking about how he had suddenly developed a slight anxiety about something that he had to do. I responded because he made me think about something in my own life.
The story he made me think of is this:
When I was young, heights did not really bother me that much. I mean I wasn't a daredevil or anything like some of these modern day daredevils on TikTok who climb very high buildings and film themselves doing it. But at the same time, I wasn't avoiding high places. It didn't really bother me that much.
Then I had kids and everything changed.
Image by Chuck C. from Pixabay
After I had kids, two things happened. First of all, I immediately started to dislike when I took my kids to high places. For example, my kids love to go to the top of parking garages and look out. Parking garages by themselves can be high, but often in Japan the parking lot is on top of the building which makes it even higher.
After we park our car, we can go to the edge of the building and we can look off. It's usually three or five floors up, so it's not super high, but it gives a pretty good view. And my kids want to look out because it's exciting. As kids do.
But me, every time I go close to the edge with them, I kind of freak out a little bit inside. This feeling of fear comes over me and I worry about them falling. When they were smaller and I had to lift them up to let them poke their head over, I would be holding so tight. I knew it was irrational to worry: I was holding them, I wasn't gonna drop them and even if I did drop them their weight was on this side of the wall so they would fall towards me not off the building. I knew this, yet I worried anyway, so I held them very tightly. After they got old enough where they could kind of poke their head over by themselves I always felt and still feel an urge to grab the back of their shirt and hold them.
This is the first change. Parental instinct, I guess. But there was a second change after having them as well.
Now heights kind of freak me out as well. When I look over the edge, when I look down from high places I get a little scared. It's not quite vertigo, but it is leaning in that direction where if I stare down too long I can feel myself starting to get disoriented and lose my balance
I have no explanation for this. The first change could be chalked up to parental instinct, but the second...? Maybe that instinct went a little haywire.
It's interesting how we can change like that.
Image by Adrian Campfield from Pixabay
Buddhism talks about how we are constantly reborn. Every moment, every minute, every second, we are not the same. Speaking in a purely secular way, the atoms in our body are constantly changing position. What's the statistic... something like every seven years every atom in our body will have completely changed. The parts of our body are always recycling, for example our stomach sheds its lining every few days just because the the stomach acid is constantly eating at it so it has to shed and regrow. We're constantly losing hairs and nails, and then they also regrow. For most of us, anyway: men tend to have a problem with the former of those. All our organs are constantly renewing themselves. We are quite literally different from moment to moment.
There's a famous line from the Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who said that we can never stand in the same river twice.
You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.
And when you think about it, that's very true. The water is constantly moving, constantly changing. So even though this may be the the River Sanzu to pick a name (a famous Japanese river), the exact configuration of water in this river at this moment will never again be repeated. It is the River Sanzu, yet it is a different River Sanzu from moment to moment. It's the same for our own bodies.
Image by Marisa04 from Pixabay
Many years ago, I went to a lecture one time where a Zen Monk held up a picture of a baby and he said "Do you see any resemblance between this baby and me?" Some people said, "yes, the nose is the same" and so on because they guessed it was maybe his baby photo. He said:
While there might be some resemblance, these are different people. I am not this baby. This baby became me. But no part of my body has any connection with this baby. The only things that connect me with this baby are a series of photographs my parents might have and memories various people have that show a connection. Nothing more. We're different people.
And this is really what Buddhism means when it's saying we're reborn at every moment, it's saying we're not the same. While the rebirth between lives may be a bit more dramatic, it is essentially the same thing that already happens from moment to moment. But as to that between lives part...
At the basic level, Buddhism says we have no soul. It's not like the Hindu idea of reincarnation where there is a single soul that moves from life to life. In Buddhist thought, they deny this. In Buddhist thought, it's more complex... there is no soul that moves on, but there is something that continues, and what that is if more difficult to define. One teaching on this from the Zen school that I rather like talks about how there is a universal consciousness and when we die we return to this universal consciousness. Then we're reborn into a new life, scoop of this universal consciousness comes out for the new life; this scoop might contain a little bit of me, it might contain a little bit of another person, a little bit of another person.
The metaphor of water is a good one to go back to the Heraclitus quote. If you take one scoop of water from a river and pour it out and then take another scoop of water from that river, they will not be the same. It's conceivable that a small portion of the water in the first cup might make its way into the second cup, but the contents of those cups won't be the same. And one of the teachings in Buddhisms would say this is us. So when we move into the next life, it's not necessarily us. It might be a portion of us, but that portion might be combined with many other, which kind of creates a new consciousness.
I wrote about this way of looking at things before. Go here if you want to read it.
Image by Alison Updyke from Pixabay
That's the more dramatic occasion anyway, but as I said, it's always happening, not just between lives. I think Alan Watts had a very good way of thinking about this belief. He compared us not to a river but to a university. At a university, the students are constantly changing. Some students might be there four years before they leave, some might be there only one year before they transfer to a different school or drop out. Some students might be there of many, many years like they go into graduate school and a PhD program and then they get a job at the same university and teach there for a number of years. But there is always a recycling that's taking place. So the student body in one year is completely different or mostly different from the student body in a different year. We can say the same for the faculty as well.
Yet we still call it the same school. It's still Harvard University, to pick a name, even though all of the students have changed, many of the buildings have changed, the campus has changed. Many aspects of Harvard university have changed over the years, but we still call it Harvard. And here's the interesting thing: with each of those changes the personality of the school changes a little. Some years it may be an extremely liberal school and might inspire protests and strikes, and other years it may be more traditional. Over the years the beliefs, the actions, the teachings, all of it may change and does change, yet it is still Harvard.
Alan Watts then continues his analogy, pointing out how aspects of our personality go away, change, how new aspects come in, in the exact same way that the student body at Harvard changes and alters the school's personality.
I always liked that comparison. Alan Watts may have been many things, but he had a great way of clarifying complex ideas by simple comparisons.
Now that might be spiritual mumbo-jumbo to a lot of you, so let's not worry too much about it. It is one explanation for why sometimes we change in our beliefs and our actions, but just one: I'm sure there's many many other explanations.
Image by Alain Audet from Pixabay
Anyway, back to what started this whole thing, thinking about changes in my own mental state.
When I look at myself, I think there are some things that I have in common with my 16-year-old self (just to pick an age). And there are other things that are completely different: different beliefs, different ideas, different everything. Yet I'm still me, even though it's a completely different version of me. I don't think I have any great point I'm leading to here in this essay. I'm just exploring some ideas that this change in myself leads me to think about.
How about you guys? What do you think? Have there been any big changes in your life, either in beliefs or in fears. Let me know in the comments.
(title graphic made by me in PS using this image by Dim Hou from Pixabay)
|David LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.|
Hello @dbooster, interesting aspects that you address in your publication.
Regarding what you refer to as "disorientation associated with altitude", with a feeling of instability, perhaps it could be associated with an organic affectation in the auditory sphere (center of balance) or in the visual sphere (peripheral vision). I respectfully suggest a specialized assessment.
It is true, I agree with your statement that we are in constant transformation. Our cells fulfill their evolutionary cycles, they die and are born constantly depending on their responsibilities and place so will be their replacement time. Absolutely everything is in constant change.
Until another time.
Happy week to you and yours.
Thanks for the comment.
Oh it really doesn't bother me enough to get a professional assessment about it. It's not crippling or anything severe. I just find it curious at the change in my mental state over the years.
I understand, I got carried away by my professional practice as a physician. Just a suggestion, our organism speaks in many ways. We must be attentive to the signals emitted by our body. There are generic patterns of functioning and particular (unique) patterns conditioned to each person and accepted as normal. For example, my restorative sleep pattern is six hours, if that one moment pattern were to change (become longer or shorter) I should seek help and evaluation because my normal pattern has altered and become (abnormal) in that direction was my comment to you.
Until another time.
Your story is amazing. Actually, I think your writing is Zen. I always think about this type of things but I can’t express my process much. Your writing made me feel “Yes! そうそう！そのとおり。”
I totally agree with this.
I'm glad you enjoyed and feel the same way 😃