New Semester, Only Semester

In the Zen tradition, the length of a life is always one breath. This emphasizes the Zen outlook that the present moment is the only one we can attend to, the only one we can be sure about. Paraphrasing Bruce Lee, the past is an illusion, the future is imaginary.  All we have is what is in front of us now. To speculate in either direction on the timeline is to invite - and create - suffering in our lives due to the absence of those things as certainties.

I sit here tonight overlooking the Cedar river after a very fun weekend in Cedar Rapids - a good way to end one of the most restorative winter breaks I've had in a while. It started with me concerned about the future and ended with me very satisfied about where I am in the present. I worried about my courses this term, now I am looking forward to them. From this weekend I have started to incorporate a new measure of life, or bird by bird, as has been recently said to me.

The proper way to measure life for me is semester by semester. And the most important lesson is that only the semester in front of you matters.

Previous semesters are illusory - you trump them up beyond actuality and often we find ourselves steaming away at particular failures or frustrations, and too much time shining light on the successes, casting the mediocre moments in shadow.

Attending to what is in front of you is best. Like competitive cooking shows, use your experience to work with the ingredients you have instead of comparing them to the ingredients you had, or that you wish you had.

This semester for me - a frozen river is an appropriate image to work with. On the surface things look still and clean - but underneath there's a lot of activity.

This semester I focus on transforming my debate program into something new.

This semester I focus on incorporating scholarship into all aspects of what I do at the university.

This semester all I do at the university I will attempt to incorporate in scholarship.

The break began with a stimulating conversation in Texas over facebook about the role debating organizations can have in the pressing need for guided, quality undergraduate research in the university.  It ends with this frozen river, and my wonder about what lies underneath.

The same is true of my coming semester. It appears still, normal, and just as the others. The students will supply my opportunities and establish my limitations. Only these students, only now.

Bird by bird, breath by breath, life this term shall be measured. Not compared.

For it is the only semester I'm fairly certain that I actually have.