Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Today I stopped on my bike ride to watch a tree blowing in the wind, and it reminded me of some truths I’ve been considering lately. It was clear, first of all, that the leaves weren’t doing any of the work -- nor, in fact, was the breeze that was nearest to each leaf. No, the work was being done by a far larger force, something we might call the weather system of the universe, or just “the universe”. The swaying of the leaves and limbs on the road along the Pawcatuck River this afternoon was simply the latest step in a literally endless process. Something got started at the Big Bang some 15 billion years ago, and the rustling in this windy tree at 3:30 pm today was the most recent result. These thoughts brought me back to the fundamental truth that, like the tree, I actually don’t “do” anything by myself. The tree doesn’t initiate the swaying, and I, on my own, do not initiate any action. Like a leaf on this tree, I am part of a never-ending and ultimately unknowable process. The leaf does what it must do, and so do I. Interestingly, sometimes the leaf did nothing. As I watched the tree, I noticed that occasionally some parts of it were entirely still, and I realized that this stillness was also part of the same huge, mysterious process. The leaves were not always fluttering beautifully in the wind, just as I cannot be always busy with activities. It was fitting and proper for the limbs of the tree to be totally motionless sometimes – doing absolutely nothing – and the same is true for me. If I “accomplish nothing” in a particular day, that must have been what the Universe designed for me on that day. I was beautiful in my indolence and unproductivity, just as were parts of the tree I watched today. Also, some parts of the tree were occasionally in shadow, and thus were not as bright and outstanding as other parts – just as I sometimes spend hours, days, even months in relative obscurity. It was obvious as I watched the tree change in the changing light that a law was operating: nothing can be always in the sunshine or always in the shade. There must always be alternation. Finally, one great truth that I couldn’t miss yesterday was the fact that all the power in this windy and beautiful scene was coming from the sun. Behind everything – behind the changing colors and shadows, and behind the constantly shifting winds – was the silent but omnipresent light and heat of the sun. The scene appeared to be very busy with many different forces, but actually only one power was operating – the vast and commanding force of the sun. A similar truth applies to me. No matter how full of activity my life seems to be, there’s actually only one supreme power at work. Some call this power God, some Allah, some the Tao, but whatever it’s name, it’s constantly moving and inspiring, just like the wind in the tree beside the river this afternoon.

1) The ideas contained in the above paragraph are certainly not "my own". Countless numbers of people, including classic thinkers like Plato, Lao Tse, Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, and Dickinson, have expressed the same ideas. I just "rephrased" them.

2) Some readers might think I am a "determinist" -- a person who believes people are powerless and life is ultimately pointless because of the absence of free will. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that understanding the powerlessness of the personal ego paradoxically makes us way more powerful. It's the difference between the power of a single wave in the ocean, and the power of the entire vast ocean. The point of the paragraph above is that we are not separate waves, but the ocean itself, and the wonderful point of life is to simply be that ocean, and enjoy it.

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