I was hiking through a forest last summer and delighting in the beauty surrounding me. At one point my attention focused in on the leaves on the trees and a few thoughts came to mind. Perhaps you’ll take a little mind ride with me here and consider the existence of a leaf for a few moments.
It grows out of its mother to play its part for awhile in a brilliantly conceived and awe-inducingly complex set of bio-chemical processes. Then we give it a name. “Ah, a leaf.” Now, in our mind’s conception of it, the leaf appears to have some sort of independent existence to carry that name. Of course we also break the naming down into more specific descriptive categories: maple leaf, birch leaf, alder leaf and so on.
But as we can readily observe, in some essential way that leaf was never born as we think of birth into separate existence. The umbilical cord to its mother is never cut throughout the days of its growth and maturity, until . . . still beautifully engaged in the bio-chemical dance, the mother stops feeding her children. Without its mother milk the leaf begins to die, or so it appears, and now we have more adjectives for it: a dying leaf, autumn leaves, a pile of dead leaves on the ground.
Did the leaf really die? On some level yes of course. The lifeblood ceased to flow through it and it fell to the ground where it will soon disintegrate. But what if, instead of thinking of this process as one of dying and death, we saw it as part of a continual process of transformation? Instead of, “Ah, a pile of dead leaves” how about, “Ah, a pile of transforming leaves.” Or maybe we could deconstruct our conceptualization and labeling even further with, “Ah, parts of this entity we call a tree, which is itself an inextricable part of a larger interdependent whole, is transforming more dramatically right now.”
If you accept that the leaf was never really a separate entity, nouns and adjectives notwithstanding, by “dying” it hasn’t ceased to be part of the symphony. For example, maybe its materiality now enters the earth around the tree and provides nourishment for it, or for a young sapling in the vicinity.
Of course you could just as plausibly run through this sequence in regard to the tree itself. In the most obvious way, the tree is never separated from the ground around it. In a somewhat less obvious way, at least to us non-scientists, the tree is a visible presence in a completely interconnected, interdependent ecology of earth, water, air, sunlight and who knows what other elements of art and science and as yet unrecognized brilliant design constituents.
You’ve probably surmised by now where I’m going with this. As I sat in the forest enjoying the beautiful visual display and contemplating leafness, my thoughts turned to us humans. Tricked by our apparent physical separation from our surroundings, too clever for our own good, we’re seduced by the conviction of our separateness.
But aren’t we really in the same situation as everything else in form? Inextricable components of a living and constantly moving dance of energy and information. Yes, the umbilical cord seems to have been cut. Yes, we can move around more independently than the trees, but seen with a certain kind of vision, we’re no more separate. We are just as much a part of an interdependent and contiguous environment as anything else in form.
One of the most striking confirmations of this understanding I’ve come across is the experience of the neuro-scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor. She gave a talk on Ted TV that should still be there when you read this. http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html
Jill had a massive stroke that all but completely shut down her left brain. Although the two hemispheres are in constant communication, the left brain again, in case you forgot, is the hemisphere that deals primarily with the known, with logical, rational, linear thinking, with concept formation, belief etcetera. The right brain processes direct information, the larger, holistic, interconnected picture, what we might call the unknown.
With her left brain processing almost totally out of the way, Jill was unable to get hold of its library of information—all the basics of learned identity like her name, her phone number etc. etc. But this clearing away opened the portal to a profound experience. She looked at her arm and could not see where it ended and where the atmosphere around it began. This perception then extended much farther as she began to realize her connectedness to all. Though her left brain did eventually reboot, the experience had a profound, life-changing effect on her. She concluded the talk by suggesting that the experience of interdependent interconnectedness is the ground of reality surrounding us and that we are all capable of making the choice to open up to it.
Learning Effortless Alignment
Though I don’t intend in this essay to get into a discussion of how the rest of us can access this kind of state, I’ll offer the observation that for many of us seekers it has to do with presence, with learning to relax into and trust nowness, beyond the brain as it were, or perhaps more accurately, beyond the limiting control of the left brain. Buddhist teachings call it the discursive mind and describe it as the action of ego—a continuous and overlapping process of mental activity that functions to obscure the underlying reality. Through our presence-encouraging practices we gradually, in most cases, learn to slow down the speed of mind and settle into—again using Buddhist terminology—emptiness. That somewhat daunting word just means emptiness of the obscuring, cluttering, concept-addicted discursive mind, in favor of clear, unfiltered perception of things as they are in each moment.
Another way of describing this experience I’ve found helpful lately is to envision everything as energy—patterns of energy, constantly flowing, shifting, evolving patterns of energy. Ego is equated with struggle, with trying to force our virtual, imaginary version of life onto these self-existing patterns of energy.
Another relevant Buddhist teaching on this issue is that of effortlessness. It doesn’t mean laziness or lack of effort. It has something to do with surrendering the struggle and resistance and recognizing, aligning, and harmonizing with the existing energies. I also like to think of this as learning to settle into the still center, a place many of us have visited briefly at various times that keeps calling us back. This is the place that provokes phrases like “the peace that passeth all understanding.” That’s a good one. It implies that if you can ‘understand’ it, that ain’t it.
If you’ve read my book Returning to Sacred World or any of my other writings you know that I can’t help relating all this back to the planetary condition. Again, by many accounts and much evidence, we’re in an unprecedented time of karmic completion and extremely rapid change. As a lot of us see it, there is a kind of download underway in which unenlightened, dysfunctional views and behaviors are being challenged, overturned, and healed. A new, saner set of morphic fields is being introduced and is spreading rapidly around the planet, though not to all at this time of course. The transformation is seeping down through various levels. There’s an image of walking in a fine mist. We don’t realize we’re getting wet but eventually we discover we’re soaked.
By way of concluding, it seems that we’re all in the same situation, beguiled and befuddled by the illusion of separateness, with the promise before us of awakening to our true nature as interpenetrating points of living light dancing in harmony with the ever-flowing energies all around us. I suggest that this is an understanding whose time has come on this planet. Let us pray brothers and sisters.