Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sum of the Parts

 Sixth grade algebra isn't just about finding the variables. (image from The Things We Say)
I love math. Yes, this card-carrying English major has a definitive  math jones. I love math's logic and black and white answers. In a world of words where meaning  shifts with context, the constancy of math is refreshingly straightforward. An answer is right or wrong. As much as I try not to judge, having one area in my life that I can rely upon to be absolutely correct or incorrect is a relief.
This year, Jack studied the basic principles of algebra and my math-geek heart was soothed with remembrance of the thrill of discovering The Answer. (I warned you. I'm a math nerd.) I used to make excuses for my penchant for logical equations but now I realize why I love math so much. Math is cause and effect. If this, then that. Math is karma, except the Buddhist principle of karma (cause and effect) is not quite as straightforward or predictable.

In the karmic equation, there are far more variables  but the principle is the same. My accomplishments and actions in this life are the sum of every experience I've ever had, every person I've met, every emotion I've felt, every response I've given to every emotion. Buddhism prescribes that this moment is born from the previous moment. Think about it. This moment in time (10:42:01.51) could not exist if not for the moment directly before it (10:42:01.50) and so forth.
Sure there's debate about whether or not time is a concept/illusion created by the human mind/condition, but let's just accept for now that there is some measure of continuum. Not that time is fixed or fluid, matter or anti-matter, but strictly speaking, there is a measure that we will call time to describe the passing of the present moment.
The present moment passes and begets the next present moment. In so far as I have knowledge, there will always be the next present moment. Just as we know numbers can continue on into infinity, we can see that present moments may continue. The only moment; however, that I have any control over is the present and fleeting one. The present quickly becomes past and thereby, illusive.
My life consists of an unbroken chain of moments strung together like a (Buddhist) rosary without a definitive beginning or end. Therefore, the person who you know today as Brigid is the product of every moment that happened in this life—and Buddhists would include every moment that happened in my past lives too, from beginningless time. The Brigid you know today is the sum of a whole lotta parts, all of which are in constant flux. This sense of impermanence is a comfort to me because it helps me have compassion for my ego and grants me much-needed humility.
Although I am responsible for my actions, I am not solely to blame or to praise. Knowing that I do not exist independently from the rest of the world, I am less likely to grow too proud of my accomplishments, nor too ashamed of my misdeeds. Pride and shame are self-centered responses anyway. These feelings can only keep me stuck in the past. For example, although I typed this blog entry from the thoughts that entered my head, all of these thought impulses were informed by experience I've gathered over the past decades. Nothing that I write is 100-percent free of influence. If you've spoken with me or I've experienced or read it within the last 51 years, that knowledge is woven into every word that comes out today in this blog.
I take great comfort in this knowledge as a writer and a person. I also tread a bit more softly as I go about my work and my life. This is where my karmic equation and the laws of math differ, because even though I know that what I write, say and do will affect other people, I can never predict exactly how. One plus one will equal two, but I cannot know for certain if the answer will be positive or negative—or both. But I do know that every action yields affects on the world around me, and with this in mind I now take a little more time to consider the variables and the outcomes before I begin to cipher.