This fleeting world...

Several weeks ago I was privileged to lead a two-day workshop in Brussels, Belgium titled “Nothing Missing.” We were exploring the intersection of Zen practice and psychotherapy, especially through the Internal Family Systems model. I had never been to Belgium and had never visited the older parts of the city of Brussels. In the old square, my friend Sophie and I came upon two young men energetically preparing something mysterious for the crowd of tourists. Their offerings soon emerged as ephemeral, beautiful, and playful. Huge bubbles began to float across the cobblestone square. People stopped to marvel at the fragile creations. Children ran after them, fascinated and determined to touch them, knowing that to finally capture the object of their fascination would be to destroy it. Time after time they stood entranced, waiting for the next bubble, repeating their joyful pursuit to the inevitable destructive ending, thrilled at the next opportunity to grasp at nothing.


Each bubble was dazzling, but more interesting was the unending cycle of creation and destruction. As I watched, I recalled the famous lines of the Buddha responding to the question posed to him by his disciple Subhuti in the Diamond Sutra, “How are we to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:” The Buddha responded:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream,
So is this fleeting world.


Sometimes we are the ones creating the bubbles, mistaking them for substance, totally entranced by their evanescent beauty. It is as if they are the promise of something that can never be delivered. We sense the excitement rise as each loop is dipped in the soapy water, so there must be something real about these appearances. We can feel them. They have meaning in our agitated bodies. We anticipate the next creation, hoping that this one will be the one that satisfies – but satisfies what? If one bubble is good, maybe two will be better. I know that more of nothing is still nothing, but didn’t my nose get wet when the bubble exploded? Didn’t the others see it happen as well? Maybe the next one will last forever!


There are times when we identify as the witnesses, satisfied to stand on the sidelines watching the dance, feeling its pull, but hesitant to jump in. And sometimes we simply stop and look through the whole thing. Or is it the looking-through that actually stops us? In the stopping we turn. This stopping and this turn is the entrance to practice. We turn and SEE!


In seeing we come to realize ourselves not only as the bubbles, but as the bubble maker, the witness, and the child — no separation, nothing solid, and nothing missing.
With this realization we rejoin the dance. We can now plunge in with our whole body, with energy and creativity, knowing exactly what we are doing and being amazed that we are actually doing it. This clear seeing with full engagement is called Wisdom. Wisdom helps us realize that there is no escape from the impermanence of forms within conditioned existence, but nevertheless we celebrate and participate fully in form for the sake of everyone and everything. And this wholehearted offering and generous care for all is called Compassion.


Seeing the shining faces of our friends reflected back through the veil of appearances, full of love and joy, we live out our lives. Our lives and the fragile bubble have only one sure outcome. Even so, we learn not to hold back from the inevitable. This is where human longing and heartfelt gratitude come to understand each other as the most intimate partners. This is how they eventually find their home in embodied immediacy in each moment until there are no more moments — until the bubble bursts.
And how is this accomplished in this fleeting, human world? By viewing life as the Buddha taught…
Like a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud.
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.

Flint Sparks
Hui Ho’olana
November 18, 2014