The Life Cycle of a Moment

Initially, this post seemed to be about dying into the moment and that was its working title. Working titles are quite Zen, I think. They are as impermanent as are the moments of our lives and just as complete in their birth, life, and death.

So the title of the post is now, “The Life Cycle of a Moment.” In another week in a different venue the title will change again as will the post but its essence, its cycle, will not. Whether similar or seemingly new, each moment cycles.

Three at Waverly 0714

In Jake Fades: A Novel of Impermanence, dying into the moment is the doorway into the next:

“…dying now means coming to each moment fresh… Seeing every person, even your partner, as if you have never met before. Hearing the birds as if you have never heard a chirp in your life. Our past is what we think of as our life, that whole life of thought and memory that we carry around all the time, but nothing actually repeats itself. Every moment is new, and you cannot live this moment until you die to the past one.”

(David Guy, p. 172)

Yet to consider death as integral to every moment was quite a shift for me, and as often happens in Zen, my view of the world turned inside out. For me, opening to the ending inherent in every moment makes the familiar fresh, a wave worthy of its own experience.

Some moments are like riding on the crest of a whitecap while in others it is as if I am becalmed and awaiting a wind until the wave washes upon the sand. All moments pass only to return as life anew.

So, how long is a moment? Consider this math: there are 6,400,099,980 moments in one day; one finger snap=65 moments; dividing 65 into 6,400,099,980=98,463,077 finger snaps per day (Ruth Ozeki, Appendix A, p. 407, The Tale of the Time Being).

That is a lot of living and dying at a rate I can barely wrap my mind around. Yet, a snap of fingers is such an immediate image of impermanence that it makes a wave upon the sand seem like an eternity. And yet, both are.

Wave upon the water 0514

“Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

(Ruth Ozeki, p. 408)

When awareness is the measure of the moment, any linear sense of time—such as a finger snap–fades into simply being, often enhanced by memory, flashes of moments similarly spent. Surely, the math of memory flashes is at least equal to, if not greater than, the number of moments in a finger snap.

And here we are near the end of another moment, perhaps measured more by awareness than by snaps of fingers or memory flashes. Well, that is what is true for me in this moment as it takes its place in the story that is me, maybe to return as a flash or maybe not.

We write (and read) stories to provide perspective on passing moments, recording the progress of our stories with working titles, changing with the measure of the moment.

15 thoughts on “The Life Cycle of a Moment

  1. I find it so difficult to live with knowledge that each moment could be the last. A realization I came to when my parents were dying. And yet, in this knowledge is the freedom to create and do. But also the anxiety that keeps you from doing both. A conundrum.


    1. It is a conundrum, isn’t it? For me, it is finding the middle way without clutching at it, meaning to meet the flow of life and trust ability to open to what comes. Incredibly difficult. Thanks so much, Kay!


  2. Your thoughts provoke an intriguing thought: what is the intersection between the evanescent moment and the permanence of the written word? We have a thought – a perfection of concept – and try to write it down, capturing that moment, that thought, frozen in time. But as you point out, is the ‘thought’ of one moment going to be the same as our ‘thought’ in the next moment, when we try to express is through the imperfect tool of writing? We revise, we change, we amend. In a linear sense, each amendment becomes its own expression of a different passing moment. From this perspective, not superseding the old, but a different expression of the idea. This is not abstract musing; the reality of writing is that it’s perfectly possible to over-write, polish something to death as we strive to capture the perfection of the original concept of mind, and so lose the immediacy of the (flawed) original.


    1. Yes, Matthew!!!!! Zen has given me a perspective I did not have regarding writing. As you say, it is not abstract musing but rather what may happen. Sometime ago, I had a shift in my writing process as a result of this awareness, although I am still working through it, i.e., working titles. Continuity and transition are more problematic but I suspect that has more to do with becoming comfortable with letting go of old in favor of incorporating new. Truly, it is fascinating to me. Wonderful thoughts, Matthew. Thanks so much.


  3. I adore this post, Karen! Pure poetry.

    Working titles truly are zen, though I’ve never considered them as such before. I wonder how often they stick without transforming–seldom, I imagine. Forcing permanence would seem a big mistake.


    1. Forcing permanence has never been successful for me, especially when I thought I had succeeded for it was short-lived as it was only success in appearance. Working titles have always really helped me in writing for they seem to mark transformation and let it go. This has been an “aha moment” for me in writing as well as in living. I am still exploring both. So glad you enjoyed the post, August. Thanks for the lovely words.


  4. Once again, you leave me pondering my own life experiences, Karen. I love the image of the finger snap, and I found myself sitting at my desk, snapping. Something about experiencing the concept of moment in such a tactile way, helped me connect with the realism. Right before I saw your post come in, I finished my own where I suggested we find the gap in time to allow us to think before acting. I thought of you, and your writing because your words are always a reminder to me to return to the lessons from our practice. Thanks for being you, and sharing your journey. xx


    1. That finger snapping got my attention as well. No more floating about but rather a connection to now, as you say. I, too, have found myself snapping my fingers, which is also good exercise for my arthritic fingers. Ah, the wisdom of other people’s stories. Off to read your post. Thanks so much, Stephanie.


  5. when i meditate (the chinese call it simply “sitting”) I sometimes reach a state where it seems like time stops, and then this flash of blinding lucidity happens. It is like everything in my life has vanished, been left behind, as if I have momentarily died. So there’s definitely something to what you say about dying into the moment. I had never heard it described that way, but when you said it, I recognized it immediately. It passes swiftly, however, and I’m like “damn! that was something!”


    1. The novel, Jake Fades, brought it to my attention, Craig, and there was the shift. It is the dying that makes the next fresh for without the dying, the next is never quite born. I know what you mean about that flash of blinding lucidity for it is everything and nothing else is. It absolutely stuns, as you say.
      Lovely, lovely comment, Craig.


  6. Thanks for some interesting points here. ‘When awareness is the measure of the moment, any linear sense of time—such as a finger snap–fades into simply being, often enhanced by memory, flashes of moments similarly spent.’ This reminds me of something I read in one of Michael’s posts ‘every moment is a shift in focus’. An event can be seen in any number of different ways. For each individual it’s experienced through a kind of filter, a selective process is going on, through sensory perception + mind. In fact, there must be a whole range of shifts in focus in the life cycle of a moment…


    1. Yes, an entire range of shifts in focus in the life cycle of a moment, much like a kaleidoscope perhaps. I have more a sense of this than I am able to relay through words so thank you for your words. They are most helpful and much appreciated.


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