Welcome to the eternal now

"foamy surf" is 11x14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. It depicts the Lost Coast in Humboldt County, California.

"foamy surf" is 11x14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. It depicts the Lost Coast in Humboldt County, California.

Recently I spent a long, boring week in bed with the flu. When not sleeping, reading, or writing whiny haiku about being sick, I did some musing on the nature of time. 

There are so many ways that we fight with time. In the short term, like most modern-day humans, I often feel that there is not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do, like paint. So it was frustrating to be bedridden for days, with too much time on my hands but not enough energy to do anything with it!

In the long term, as I get older, I feel a keener awareness of my limited time here on earth, and my finite window to contribute to the world. This, too, can lead to frustration that I am not accomplishing more.

Time can also seem like an enemy because we only experience it flowing in one direction. As a result, it’s natural to compare the present with the concrete and specific past that we clearly remember rather than the misty, unknown future. 

And so we focus more on aging and loss: the slim waistline and the full, dark hair we once took for granted, the steel-trap memory grown rusty, the friends who have passed on. Why not focus instead on the fact that we are probably healthier, sharper, and more energetic today than we will be down the line?

"celebrate" is 5x7, an image of cherry blossoms painted with sumi ink and watercolors on paper.

"celebrate" is 5x7, an image of cherry blossoms painted with sumi ink and watercolors on paper.

you’re younger now
than you’ll ever be

What if, as in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, we aged in reverse? Would we be more enthusiastic about growing “older” if it meant becoming more youthful? Yes, eventually there are diapers, mushy food and babbling at both ends of life. But for some reason this is adorable in toddlers, embarrassing in the old.

Anyhow, Benjamin Button is a work of fiction. As Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

Maybe we would be happier if we fully grasped the discovery from quantum physics that time is malleable and relative. What if time does not exist in any fundamental sense except as a useful conceptual tool for navigating our world? To quote sci fi writer Ray Cummings, “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

Although none of us are evolved enough to transcend time permanently (is that what death is?), we have all experienced the state of “flow” when we lose awareness of the passage of time. It might be while surfing, reading a great book, or playing music with friends. When I am painting—a right-brain activity—I’m focused on color and form, and the hours flow by uncounted.

Paradoxically, perhaps we would feel we had “enough time” if we spent more of our days in this mode beyond time, when we are fully present and engaged in each moment. It shouldn't be that hard to do: as young children, we passed most of the day in this state, fully immersed in exploration and play. 

On my way to the beach, I often hike by some cement water tanks that have been covered in graffiti for years. Today I was tickled to see that a county worker had painted it all out except this one line: “Welcome to the eternal now.”

foamy surf
rushing out
my inner child

Zen graffiti on a water tank at Ma-le'l Dunes in Manila, California.

Zen graffiti on a water tank at Ma-le'l Dunes in Manila, California.

Makino Studios

2018 Golden Haiku Competition: I’m delighted to share that the haiku below was selected to be featured on a sign in downtown Washington, DC this month! If any of my DC readers sees it, in the Golden Triangle neighborhood between the White House and Dupont Circle, please send me a photo!

daffodil shoots-Golden Haiku sign.jpg

North Coast Open Studios: Mark your calendar for the 20th anniversary of this fun, free event, when more than a hundred Humboldt County artists open their studios to the public. I will once again join silk painter Tina Gleave and other artists at the Samoa Women’s Club in Samoa, CA for Weekend 1, June 2-3. 

More thoughts on aging: A 2013 blog post, “Younger than we’ll ever be,” uses prose, art, and haiku to explore the theme of coming to terms with getting older.

Lights out

“what remains” is 5×7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on textured paper.

“what remains” is 5×7, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on textured paper.

My son Gabriel is an unusual kid: while other twelve-year old boys like to play video games, he prefers to watch BBC science documentaries. So much so, in fact, that his dreams have included a narrator with a British accent.

He has matter-of-factly explained to me that the average mammal species lasts about one million years. On a planet more than four billion years old, that’s the blink of an eye. This means that Homo sapiens, the clever species that tamed fire and invented the iPhone, could be gone before we know it.

lights out
we discuss
our extinction

What with all the grocery lists and oil changes of everyday life, it’s easy to lose the grand perspective. But the truth is that for all our striving, even the most influential and famous of our species—President Obama, Pope Francis, Oprah Winfrey—will be forgotten long before the pebbles on the beach turn to sand.

Yes, there is something sad about all this. Billions of people work hard every day to make it through this life and to leave something of lasting value. Yet in geological time, all this effort will amount to approximately nothing.

At the same time, I find some reassurance in taking the (very) long view. It puts our human insanities in perspective, and enables a sort of Zen detachment from the grim daily headlines. Keeping the big picture in mind helps me find a sense of lightness and acceptance of our predicament.

what remains
of the mountain
sand between my toes

OK, so nothing I can do in my time here will last longer than the flap of a butterfly’s wing. Ultimately, this helps clarify what’s really important. Not money, degrees, titles, or fame. Not even the amazing children my husband and I are raising: in a hundred years, we’ll all be history.

At the risk of sounding too woo-woo, I’ve come to feel that what matters—and what may be the only real and lasting thing—is the energy and intention that we put out in the world as we do our work. Call it spirit. Call it love. And no matter how much time we are given, no matter how long our species survives, let’s make the best of it, and call it good.

“what remains” was first published as a haiku in With Cherries on Top, Ed. Michael Dylan Welch, Press Here (2012), and reprinted in this world:Haiku Society of America Members' Anthology (2013). The art was first published on Haigaonline (December 2013).

Makino Studios News

Wet Paint: Ten new haiga (haiku paintings) have been posted to the Current Work section of the Gallery on this site.

Red Moon Anthology: The poem below was selected for a just-published collection of the best haiku of 2013, fear of dancing: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2013, edited by Jim Kacian:

some part of me
still wild

Annette’s Blog: For previous posts, including this one from June 2012 on Gabriel’s scientific perspectives, see Parallel Universes.

NaHaiWriMo: February is National Haiku Writing Month. Get daily prompts and share your efforts on the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page.