“Again, again, again!”
There is a saying about life: you don’t get a second chance. Children are here to tell us otherwise. You get a lot of second chances. You get a lot of third chances. You get many fourth chances. Before all is said and done, you get about a gazillion chances to do things that you never wanted to do even once. You will do many things again, so many times again: knocking down the same old blocks, pushing the same old swing, reading the same old story, singing the same old song, winding the same old wind-up to its predictable ending. Predictable to you, that is, same old, same old you.
Children learn by repetition. And by their repetition we can learn too. We can learn how cynical we are; how busy and easily bored; how impatient and restless. Those are the things we can see in ourselves many times a day. It can take far longer — a lifetime — for us to realize what they, with their brilliantly open minds, still see quite plainly: nothing, absolutely nothing repeats. Every moment of this life is altogether new. They do things again and again because they haven’t yet calculated the probabilities; they haven’t yet anticipated the ending. They are still doing what we have ceased to do: see the infinite possibilities. They are not yet cutting life short by their jaded cleverness. “Been there, done that,” we say, as we dispose of our unrealized potential.
It is impossible to conceive of the true, dynamic nature of life. It is ever-flowing, never arriving at the same place twice; indeed, never even pausing to arrive. And yet we think we’ve seen it all.
Maezumi Roshi was fascinated with the phenomenon of life as it really is. He frequently referred to a portion of the Abhidharma Sutra in which Buddha taught that in one day, our life is born and dies over six billion times. “Over six billion times!” he would exclaim, like a child delighted with a new toy. If you listened to his talks then, or if you read them now, you hear him return to this point again and again and again. It never bored him. Of course, every time he uttered it was a new discovery; it was not the same old, same old thing at all.
We can acknowledge this truth just by facing the scientific fact of our existence. Every instant cells in our body are changing: they die, they regenerate. The earth spins. Air moves. Grass grows. Every moment is a beginning and an end. Nothing is fixed but our fixations. We affix on our habitual views; we affix on our habitual behaviors. And we think we’re done. What’s next? Where to? Anxiety lurks.
What looks like repetition is practice. In one eternal stretch, my daughter took the same peanut butter-on-white bread lunch to Pre-K for eighty-two days straight. She was practicing eating her lunch. She wore the same grungy pink sandals. She was practicing choosing her shoes. She tore straightaway to the swings as soon as we arrived at school each morning. She was practicing pumping her legs. Look how serenely I now feign my acceptance of these inexplicable ruts! What I thought at the time was, How can I move her onto wheat? How can I get her to wear tennis shoes? How can I entice her to pick up a pencil?
This is how life comes to us: over and over again, so we can refresh ourselves into open-mindedness; so we can practice being alive. Another chance to let it go, another chance to let it be, another chance to see how it goes this time. How sweet that our children keep bonking us awake with such tiny, white bread offenses.
Here it comes again: another start of another day. What a reprieve! You have incalculable chances to change the ending. To change your attitude. To be the new you. Whether you know it or not, you already are the new you. Forget what you think, lose the foregone conclusion, and just be new.