"Haiku began in thirteenth-century Japan as the opening phrase of renga, an oral poem, generally a hundred stanzas long, which was also composed syllabically. The much shorter haiku broke away from renga in the sixteenth century and was mastered a century later by Matsuo Basho, who wrote this classic haiku:
An old pond! A frog jumps in-- the sound of water.
"As the form has evolved, many of its regular traits—including its famous syllabic pattern—have been routinely broken. However, the philosophy of haiku has been preserved: the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment.
"This philosophy influenced the American poet Ezra Pound, who noted the power of haiku's brevity and juxtaposed images. He wrote, "The image itself is speech. The image is the word beyond formulated language." The influence of haiku on Pound is most evident in his poem "In a Station of the Metro," which began as a thirty-line poem, but was eventually pared down to two:
- Academy of American Poets: https://poets.org/glossary/haiku
Brief Moments in Time Process Philosophy and Haiku Consciousness
Something is missing in open and relational (process) philosophy and it has to do with primacy of brief moments in time. Or, to be more exact, brief moments of time, because the moments themselves create time.
What’s missing is not a recognition that moments are real. Process theologians recognize that the universe itself is composed, not of solid substances that endure unchanged over time, but rather of brief moments. We call them “occasions of experience” or “moments of concrescence” or “actual entities” or “actual occasions.” We speak of them as the building blocks of reality. Yes, we know about moments.
Still, something is missing, itself the result of the legacy of substance thinking. I'll call it haiku consciousness and it includes eight ideas.
Value is in the moment. The first is a recognition that, when it comes to what is important in life, these brief moments are the very place where value is found. Value is found in the moment. And, more specifically, in the self-enjoyment of the moment. Related to this is a recognition that these moments do not need to endure forever in order to be beautiful and important. We can celebrate the temporary.
Persons are moments, too. The second thing missing is that these moments are who we ourselves are. It’s not as if the moments are one thing and we ourselves are another, beholding them from a distance, like bystanders on the shore of a river. We ourselves are in the river and there is no shore. We are moments, too.
The universe is in each moment. A third thing missing is a recognition that moments are never self-enclosed or isolated. They are places of value and also places where the world finds its momentary home. In each moment, the many of the universe “become one” in the process of experiencing them.
Each moment is beyond verbal formulations. Each moment is infinitely complex, which means that there can be no complete account of the moment.
God loves moments, too. The love of God for the world is a love of moments, and God is enriched and made complete, moment by moment, by the moments. God is a moment. God is not a thing or an object to be owned or possessed. God is a happening. Some process theologians see God as a series of happenings; some as a single everlasting happening. Either way, God, like all persons, is not a thing but an event, a happening. This happening, too, is beyond verbal formulations.
Part of the beauty of a moment is that it fades away. The moments in life fade away. So do the moments comprising the actual entities throughout the universe. All things must pass. And yet we would not want things otherwise. If sunrises and sunsets lasted forever, they would not be as beautiful as they are. This means that loss is part of beauty.
Each moment is eternal. Here "eternity" does not mean everlasting. It does not mean that a moment endures forever through time. Yes, moments do have effects into the indefinite future. They are, in Whitehead's words, objectively immortal. Still, they lose their subjective immediacy as they become objects for the future. Eternity here means something different. It means that, as it happens and amid its subjective immediacy, a moment participates in the divine moment, and is itself a window into that divine moment. We see God in the moment.
These eight ideas, taken together, form haiku consciousness. This kind of consciousness is important. It invites a lightness of heart and mind, an internal freedom to be here-and-now. This consciousness is sorely needed among process philosophers and theologians who might otherwise cling too tightly to the illusion of permanence and lose perspective.
However, haiku consciousness is not sufficient for the well-lived life. Such a life must be attuned to the realities of life that are temporarily permanent: that is, permanent for a while or, to use a more common word, enduring.
Process theology also speaks of the reality of enduring objects in space and time: hills and rivers, mountains and oceans, buildings and landscapes, animal bodies and plant bodies. They do indeed endure through time, even as, within their subatomic depths, they are composed of momentary quantum events. Haiku consciousness need not deny their importance or beauty, but it well recognizes that even they do not endure forever. Always they are changing, too. Haiku consciousness is sensitive to impermanence.
The enduring objects we find so beautiful, and upon which we depend, are to be loved in their moments, here and now, and preserved so that they might survive in the future for a time. This is what it means to preserve and to save. It is to preserve, to safeguard, to love, the possibility of new moments, not only for us but for all living things, so that they, too, in their own ways, can live for a while and then, like all things, pass away.
- Jay McDaniel, July 2, 2021
New Words and Phrases
The concreteness of the brief moment of time is always more than the categories, as is a person's identity through time. She or he lives moment by moment, and no moment can be encapsulated in a formula or phrase. New words are needed. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows offers them.
sondern. "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk." (from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
sonderlust: the act of being amazed by, and even lusting for, an empathic understanding of the concrete complexity and vividness of each person's life. From the perspective of process theology sonderlust is one of the most beautiful attributes of God. We might say that God is infinitely sonderful. The Holy One is the Soul of the universe who forever seeks to know and appreciate the vitality and complexity of each passerby's life: human, of course, but also animal and plant, cellular and stellar. We are made in God's image, says the Bible, and our task as human beings is to grow into God's likeness: people of sonderlust, not lapsing into stereotypes that hide from the concrete complexity. (Jay McDaniel)
lutalica: Toward this end we need to be very sensitive to lutalica: the part of a person's identity that "doesn't quite fit in...When you were born they put you in a little box and slapped a label on it. But if we begin to notice these categories no longer fit us, maybe it’ll mean that we’ve finally arrived—just unpacking the boxes, making ourselves at home.” (from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: Whitehead's idea. The fallacy of thinking that the people we think we know are identical with what we think we know. There is always more to them, and to us, than meets the categorizing eye. (Jay McDaniel)
apophatic lutalica: an inner impulse to be suspicious of your own categories, particularly as applied to other people, ourselves and God. (Jay McDaniel)