Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Biding at the center of the circle

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

A friend described the rapid, often overnight changes appearing in the garden he and his wife have tended so carefully. Just days ago, there was limitless, burgeoning life in summer’s relentless sun and heat and rainfall.

Then, like a puff of breath on a dandelion gone to seed, it is spent and gone; fading away, or into decay.

In New England especially, these changes arrive as abruptly as the night chill that turns the leaves from green to scarlet.

“Stay at the center of the circle, and let all things take their course,” urges the Tao Te Ching.

Out at the sharp edges of the periphery, our very human selves can feel small and overcome, overwhelmed, in the inevitable enormity of change. The mind, confounded, struggles for purchase it can’t find.

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Photo: Nancy Vincent Zinke

It’s then that a way is opened through which feelings, those unexpected guests left waiting so long in a side room, can emerge.

Autumn, in particular, with its cycles of death and harvest, seems well-suited for inviting forth the grief and pain that so much effort has tried so long to avoid, or contain.

Those seeds of unclaimed treasure found only in a heart broken open.

The center of the circle, that trustworthy core, can hold these, and us, as it holds all, and remind of what Rumi saw with such kind wisdom:

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Photo: Nancy Vincent Zinke

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and scared.

Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. 
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

What is the beauty we love?

What are those hundreds of ways?

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Staying in the middle, letting the softness speak

Image courtesy Julie Bond Genovese

After moving for the first time in 35 years, and accompanying my mother-in-law during the final days of her life over these last weeks, I hit a wall.

It was a big one, a hard one. And I hit it hard.

Photo: Kathy Gilman

My heart — Spirit’s intended home, by Divine design — felt … adrift. Muffled or, much as my mother-in-law had been, knowing what it wanted to say, but unable to make her mouth say it. When she worked very hard to get the words out, you often had to practically have your ear against her lips to hear it. This is something like what my heart was feeling, too.

Along came heartfelt words from Pema Chödrön to the rescue:

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

And, a longer read, but right to the heart of the matter:

“We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds.

“But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

“Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It‘s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

“Yet, it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love”.        ~ Pema Chödrön

(From The Places That Scare You)
https://pemachodronfoundation.org/…/the-places-that-scare-…/


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When giving is receiving

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Painting: “Wings of Freedom”
from Diane Kirkup / D. Kirkup Designs.

One year as the December holiday season approached, life gave me a precious experience in giving. One of the very last things I’d bought for my father the previous year was a Christmas tree. He’d been struggling to make peace with entering assisted-living care as he also entered the final months of his life. I was feverishly trying to create Christmas around him – in fast-forward — while my heart seemed to be simultaneously breaking in half.

My daughter helped me find an artificial tree, the very last one the store had, with twinkling tiny lights already attached. After my father died the following June, that tree and the box it came in got stockpiled, along with many other things I wasn’t ready to face quite yet. Finally, as the next Christmas neared, I knew it was time to pack it up, along with other things I needed to bring to the thrift shop. But it was very, very hard to think about taking it there.

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Find this design at https://www.etsy.com/shop/DKirkupDesigns?page=2 – or enter below for a chance to win.

The following day, I drove a car packed to the gunwales to the local secondhand thrift store, feeling the weight of the grief and sadness that had been stirred by sorting through so many of my father’s things.

Then as I was unpacking the tree from my car, they magically appeared — a kind-faced young man with his little girl clutching his hand. They came up to me tentatively and asked very politely whether, if I planned to leave the tree there anyway, it might be OK for them to take it.

I hugged them both spontaneously then said that, of COURSE, I knew that it would delight my father if they were to have it, and I hoped that they were going to have an absolutely wonderful Christmas. The best they’d ever had.

Then I noticed the woman who was with them, standing off to the side. I was thinking that they all must think me crazy when she gave me a warm smile and thanked me, and then the other two, still a bit stunned by my response, began thanking me, as well. Her smile reminded me of my mother’s, I have to say.

In a little book called “The Hidden Words,” Baha’u’llah says of divine design, “To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine.”

What a gift it is to us when life allows our giving to be the precise answer to someone’s need.

From Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

Through Dec. 18, 2015 – Enter to win the trees pictured above and a signed copy of the book by sending an email to info@phyllisring.com with “Trees” in the subject line.

See more of Diane Kirkup’s work at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/dkirkupdesigns


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Eulogy for a tree of Life

 

"Green" by digital artist Lauren Chuslo -Shur

“Greens” by digital artist Lauren Chuslo-Shur

Last week, I spent time with the big, old, now-dead ash tree, a towering skeleton in our yard, its bark sloughing off in sheets.

If ever there was a physical metaphor for vanquished life, embodied sorrow, this was it.

Yet how deceiving appearances can be. There was so much more here.

Since it would be gone by the time we returned a few days later, I wanted to make my goodbyes, express my appreciation.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

For all of those years of shade, all of the homes it has provided for so many living things. For how its leaves have nourished the soil, and for not once creating any damage to property, or others, despite the great number of intense storms it has endured; the weight of snow and ice it has borne.

Yes, my petty thoughts noted, it was difficult to grow tomatoes out there under all that shade.

But the blessings this relation of ours from the plant kingdom has showered are not only numerous but, more humbling, so often taken for granted, day by day.

In a way, as the stage of its death has played out over a span of time, it feels that there is sadness and grief, former burdens carried by hearts like mine, that this decades-long companion is bearing away with it when the workers and their equipment take it down and haul it away. Israel 139

Even its final act is service: heat for our neighbors in some future wintry days.

I read recently that the denizens of the natural world, the trees and their brothers, streams and their sisters, all expend their energy to offer up what benefits others, yet never make use of it themselves.

This reality is the most timeless of the gifts my Ash brother leaves behind him.

 

 

 


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Setting down the burdens

photo-12As I traveled in Europe this spring, and in my childhood home of Germany, I had all sorts of plans for what I designated as writing time.

And Life, smiling, laid waste to them with its wise, gentle love. It led straight to pieces of a book’s story I would never find on my own. And each time, as if a soft chorus echoed it, I’d feel the inner words: “Because now is the time. Because now, you are ready.”

I also heard my mother’s voice, which used to warn with a dire tone, “You can’t go home again.” Today, I can well understand her motivation, as a military spouse. Certain kinds of setting yourself up to believe and hope are a ticket to pain no mother wants to see for her child. Other wise words had reminded me, when I’d tend to set my my inner child’s nostalgic hopes on a place I’d loved so well: “Don’t mistake geography for your Reality.”

In these last nine weeks, a recognition finally came. You can’t return to the way things were. Yet you can come home to what you love about anything, right in your own heart. And the gateway, at least in this case, is grief, that wonderful, terrible angel of release, dogging us to face our burdens, to set them down at last. When we are ready, of course. photo-7

I had known that the remaining portions of the novel I aim to finish would lead directly through that no man’s land that I have been trained to avoid. It brings the most confounding mixture of joy and wonderment with it.

Who else but Mary Oliver could provide the words that sum up such ineffables? And there her poem appeared before me, the day my journey came to its end:

HEAVY

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

“Heavy” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.