Monday, March 22, 2021

Be A Leaf

 What’s it all about?  Is there a reason for being here?  A purpose or destiny we are meant to fulfill?  The answer depends on who you are.

If you are a cloud, for instance, it’s all about gathering moisture from the air and raining it down to nourish the plants which breathe during photosynthesis, releasing water vapor back into the sky.  One minute it looks like a camel and the next like a turtle but the cloud’s not sorry, it’s serene. The cloud is transitory, almost formless.  It lets go in order to let be.  

If you’re a leaf, it’s all about absorbing sunlight and turning it into sugars for energy to produce seeds to make more trees to sustain a forest.  An apple tree can have a hundred thousand leaves.  An elm may produce a million.  Each one is a verdant solar panel.  Every leaf is a marvel of engineering. But it’s just a small part of the whole.

So who are you, and what’s your purpose?

The answer is that you are awesome: older and grander than you realized. Your particular life began 13.7 billion years ago when, inexplicably, things started.  Some call this event the Great Radiance when the universe popped into existence.

So happy birthday! From the beginning, your life (and that of countless of others, from stars to starfish) was written into the world-lines of a universe predisposed toward the unlikely possibility that something should exist (and not nothing), that life should evolve (out of seemingly inanimate atoms and molecules), that consciousness and self-awareness would originate (out of apparently dumb minerals and vegetables), and that moral freedom and choice would arise, transcending the leap from what is to what should be.

Our task here is to fully realize who we are: more than carbon-based egos struggling for survival and top-billing on this astronomically insignificant bit of real estate.  We are here for a purpose.  We are meant for each other.  

This is not a statement of faith.  It’s the plainest fact.  Years ago, I visited a confirmation class where students were learning about the world religions:  Christianity, Buddhism, and the rest.  It was spring and as I looked through the windows of the classroom at the budding profusion outside, it dawned on me.  I am not a Jew or a Hindu, not a theist or an atheist. I am a leaf.  

I’m a leaf, just here for a very short time upon this Earth, arrived yesterday, gone tomorrow, enjoying my moment in the sun, but here with a job to do.  The health of the whole tree, root to crown, depends on me.  The flourishing of the entire forest, and all the living creatures who inhabit it, depends on me and on every other little leaf contributing its part.  I have an important role to play.  But you know what?  It would be silly and self-centered for me to suppose that the miracle of spring which sweeps across the northern hemisphere every year when the planet’s axis tilts occurs because of me, or that the twig and limb and branch and trunk are here for my benefit, or that all that sunshine pours down just so that I can absorb its rays.  As a leaf, I’m just a small part of a much bigger performance and finding my own niche in this world depends on aligning myself with that larger, more lasting life of which I’m just a fragmentary and momentary expression.  

That’s the way I see it, anyway.  A leaf doesn’t complain that one of its neighbors may be a little higher in the canopy.  It doesn’t spend its time worrying “after the autumn comes, then what?”  It’s not boastful or resentful or cynical.  Rather, it cooperates, it gathers and it gives away, it unfolds and passes its energy on to another generation of leaves that will come after, and it’s beautiful, always reaching toward the light.  

At some point in your spiritual development, you come to a realization that in response to the question “What’s it all about?”, the correct answer is, “It is not all about me!”  So what I am, or want to be, is a leaf.  The universe was certainly not designed to perpetuate me, but I may be here to protect and celebrate Nature in all its glory.

So love your neighbor, because your neighbor is your larger self. Love the beauty and intelligence Creation manifests.  The great religions and modern science agree. We are sisters and brothers.  Whatever your sect or tribe, whether four-legged or two, we Earthlings share a common origin and are sprung from a single womb.  We’re all in it together.  Separateness is an illusion.   Interdependence is the reality  

So go green. Care for the environment because you are the environment. There is no point where you end and the universe begins. Don’t forget to breathe, to shine, and follow your  own growing edge.  Be a leaf.

Friday, February 5, 2021

For the Birds

 Lounging on the flight deck at the Bosque de Apache bird refuge, it is easy to believe that the world is alive.  Hundreds of snow geese bark in the distance.  Wood ducks scurry for safety as a northern Harrier glides over the shallows.  Sandhill cranes resembling ancient pterodactyls soar in from the pre-Pleistocene to alight on the marshy mud flats just beneath the mirrored water that reflects an infinity of sky.  Two cranes neck ostentatiously: there is no other word for the affection of these pair-bonded, lifetime mated birds.  They are making out.  Here in the late afternoon sun of southern New Mexico, how can you doubt that love is the secret sauce that lubricates the world? 

“When despair for the world grows in me,” wrote the poet Wendell Berry, “I go and lie down  where the great heron feeds, and where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.”  The peace of wild things assures us that despite the appalling stupidity, hubris and short-sightedness of our species, something older and wiser than we are has a hand in events.  Narcissism is not nature’s way.  A more generous, joyful and amorous spirit presides.  Darwin called it evolution: an amazingly simple, almost self-evident idea in retrospect, but one that somehow eluded the most intelligent minds for centuries.  One wonders.  Are there other equally obvious truths that we overlook today--rules of conduct that are integral to the world’s maintenance and survival, but that are still to be discovered? 

We are awaiting word. But as revelation came to Darwin from observing finches, there would be worse places to look than to the gossiping, quarrelling, socially successful cranes who--without political parties, congressional inquiries, solemn resolutions or treatises on government--have nonetheless managed to thrive these past ten million years.  We should live so long.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Blessing for a Non-Thanksgiving

 Shall we be grateful this year?

Thursday seems like every other day,
There's a sameness about the flow
But happy Thursday.
So let’s be grateful for our families and friends
Who care enough not to travel.
Let’s be grateful for the flickers and jays
Who are non-observant
And don't mind sameness
But flock to the feeder
Like every day was made for feasting.
There’s a waxing gibbous moon.
The sun rises and sets.
The malls are closed
And there are no Black Friday crowds.
Let’s be grateful for the interruptions
And absences that make “normality”
Seem like a treat, because it is.
Nothing special ... a blessing.

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