Being or Becoming?

They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming. ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

From a young age, I had a fascination with time-lapse photography – a technique that makes otherwise undetectable changes over time very clear to the human eye. Watching these discrete moments strung together on fast-forward, I noticed this sense of pulsation – a repeating cycle of expansion and contraction – that appeared to be common to all things, whether a flower growing, a mouse decaying, activity in the streets of a city,  or changes in the surface of the earth. Even seemingly immobile objects appear, through this medium, to have a sort of dance, rhythm or flow.

At first glance, we might see this as a cycle of being and passing away. Being means existence and passing away means going out of existence. But, does anything really ever pass out of existence? Watching these time-lapse films, it seems that nothing ever stops. Everything simply becomes something else. Becoming means “in progress”, a process of passing into a new state – atoms moving, combining and separating – all things and all states appearing as dynamic, ever changing expressions of the universe.

Water can be a useful analogy for being and becoming. In the water cycle, rain falls from the sky, some of which is consumed by plants and animals, some of which collects into larger bodies of water, yet all eventually evaporates back into the sky. Ocean waves emerge, each seemingly distinct, yet inevitably they melt back into the sea, indistinguishable. There seems to be a kind of flowing of all things. Yet we typically react to ourselves and our environment as if the phenomena we encounter are solid and unchanging. We tend to see ourselves this way, and this misperception causes us great distress and dissatisfaction. Fortunately, there is a way to penetrate this illusion.

Practicing mindfulness is, in some ways, similar to time lapse photography. The technique of capturing many mundane moments over time reveals previously unseen and sometimes even paradigm shifting information. In mindfulness practice, the dedicated cultivation of present moment awareness develops insight and we begin to see more clearly our own habits and patterns as well as the workings of the world around us. We gain a deeper understanding the impermanence of all compound phenomena (including ourselves) as well as our fundamental interconnection. In this way, we are able to see there is no passing away – only being and becoming – and we can meet the ebb and flow of the universe with greater equanimity.

I was born the day
I thought:
What is?
What was?
What if?

I was transformed the day
My ego shattered,
And all the superficial, material
Things that mattered
To me before,
Suddenly ceased
To matter.

I really came into being
The day I no longer cared about
What the world thought of me,
Only on my thoughts for
Changing the world.

― Suzy Kassem, “Coming Forth Into the Light” from Rise Up and Salute the Sun

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