One of the many streams near our home flows swiftly out of the hills to then meander in tight arcs across the bottomlands, bordered on one side by a broad cornfield, and on the other by a series of smallish hillocks. There’s one spot in particular that I like to frequent where the surging water makes a sweeping turn to the right to plow straight into one of those hillocks before sweeping left again. Perhaps it’s the drama of the place that attracts me – the rushing water…, the way it carves into the hillside…, the tangle of logs and debris that come to rest at the base of the cut bank.
A couple of young trees have begun a slow motion fall down that cut bank – held up by what roots still remain in firm earth. When first I saw them I wondered what it would have been like for them if they’d had the awareness of their perilous predicament that a human being would have had. They’d have grown up rooted in that place, all the while knowing what the future had in store. One companion after another would have been lost over the edge as season after season the precipice crept closer. What would that have been like? How would they have found the strength to go on?
[W]hile the tree, by its nature, yields only the sweetest of earth, we, through our life’s work, can make it bitter or sweet.
Ah, but then I realized that we all do as much. Who in this world is blessed so to live in a time without wars or rumors thereof? Perhaps for you it was a World War, or a Cold War; for me it was Vietnam. Now we have climate catastrophe breathing hot down our necks even as one random shooting after another brings the precipice closer.
So how shall we live in this maw of annihilation? I think those trees teach us how. Live with leaves as green and fleshy as your roots allow. Continue reaching for the sun even in the midst of your fall. Our lives of today become the soil of new lives tomorrow. And while the tree, by its nature, yields only the sweetest of earth, we, through our life’s work, can make it bitter or sweet.
For Buddhists, each moment encompasses both beginning and end. Suffering arises when we refuse to let go of that which can no longer be. The Dhammapada says: “Mindfulness is the way to deathlessness; unmindfulness is the way to death. Those who are mindful do not die; those who are not mindful are as if already dead.”
And so I vow to calmly watch as those young trees watch – never losing sight of the sun, and never ceasing to provide comfort and nourishment to those in my midst. Surely storms will rage and put this vow of mindfulness to the test, but for as long as the sun rises and rivers flow to the sea, I will watch.
Copyright 2019 by Mark Robert Frank
All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.