After a tropical week it seems like the autumn has finally begun here in Gillingham. Time for an autumn story from Thich Nhat Hanh. He tells us that he is in the park, completely absorbed in the contemplation of a small leaf. He spents a long time questioning the leaf, and finds out that the tree is not only the mother of the leaf, but the leaf is also a mother to the tree:
The tree distributes sap to the leaves, and the leaves transform the rough sap into elaborated sap and, with the help of the sun and gas, send it back to the tree for nourishment. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree. Since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem, the communication between them is easy to see. (…)
The Earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our mother Earth. There are stems linking us to the clouds. If there are no clouds, there will be no water for us to drink. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer.
Our dependence on everything around us leads to the question: Where do we draw the line of the ‘self’? Do ‘I’ stop to exist where my skin touches the atmosphere? If the atmosphere was not there, my lungs could not absorb oxygen and my heart would not beat.
Joanna Macy explains how our notion of ‘self-interest’ can be extended: “It would not occur to me to plead with you, “Don’t saw off your leg. That would be an act of violence”. It wouldn’t occur to me (or to you), because your leg is part of your body. Well, so are the trees in the Amazon rain basin. They are our external lungs.”
The Dalai Lama also emphasizes this principle of interdependence: “The others’ problem is also my problem.” In the series of books The Wheel of Time we meet a group of people who follow the “Way of the Leaf”. These people travel around in caravans and are held in contempt by others. They do not use violence, not even to defend themselves. After all, a leaf does no harm and does not struggle against the wind that makes it fall from the tree.
And that is how Thich Nhat Hanh closes his story:
I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. (…) I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all.”
That day there was a wind blowing, and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from that leaf.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991. Peace is Every Step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life
- Joanna Macy, ‘The Greening of the Self’, In: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (editor), 2013. Spiritual Ecology
- Video fragment van de Dalai Lama
- Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time (serie)
- As always, pictures are made by Freddy. ;-)