Even the birds
And clouds look old.
No matter how many autumns I pass through, each time I see leaves blown from the trees, floating to the Earth, dancing on the pavement, I feel as enchanted as a four year old. There is something so primal, sad and ripe about these leaves that begin their journey as small buds of promise, expand and thrive through the summer and then gently release their hold on mother tree gliding down to the ground. Yellow, orange, crimson, sienna and raw umber, shaped like hearts and oars, they rest on the earth beside other former residents of sister trees. This same pattern of bud, bloom and fade is seen in systems as large as planets and as small as thought forms. It is the great arc of life. Witnessing this journey is the height of drama but there is no drama within the heart of the leaf. It just buds, flourishes and dies.
My friend John died this week. I saw him a few weeks before he died. He was so radiant it was hard to tell that he was in the last stages of cancer. John always had a vibrant spirit and a vibrant spiritual practice, and he didn’t fall for any spiritual bullshit. He just did his own thing, hoping others would also walk their talk. His spiritual practice became simpler over the years. In the end, he wasn’t trying to change anybody, not even himself. This is where he had arrived at when I saw him a couple of weeks before he took his last breath. He fell like a deep orange leaf from a maple tree. His dying was his last dharma teaching.
We are moving into the darker days, the eye of the needle days. Many cultures believe that this is the time when our dead ancestors can find a crack in time through which to come visit us. It is also a time when many bodies that have been clinging to life begin to release their grip and float back to mother Earth. It is a beautiful time to die. I think my friend John, who was so in love with nature and art, would appreciate the beauty of his falling out of his body just as the leaves are falling from the trees.
As mother’s we are in the midst of birth and life. It is our mantle to bring forth and sustain life. We clearly see the magic and beauty in birth but not so much in birth’s older sister death. But death is just as sacred as birth, just as powerful and transcendent. From birth to life to death is a natural pattern that we all experience many times each day. When our natural resistance to death is mitigated by an understanding of the cycle, when the dry floating leaf is deemed as beautiful as the bud, a new, less fearful, world opens up. It is a world where there is beauty in everything. This does not diminish the sorrow or grief of our great losses or the pain of dying and leaving everything and everyone we love. The Tibetans call it the painful bardo of dying. It is painful to say goodbye to this beautiful Earth and the ones we love. But even the pain, sorrow and grieving can be held as part and parcel of the beautiful dance of life.
I don’t know what happens when a person dies. But whatever is happening with John right now is as beautiful and natural as he is. He will be missed and will always live in my heart.