(Wandering one gathers honey)
- Aiterya Brahmana, 7:15.5
These past few November weeks have been exceptionally warm for this time of year; sometimes it touches the 60s in and around the Philadelphia area, resulting in pleasant afternoons ideal for spending some time in nature. On one such afternoon, I decided to go for a long walk on a trail close to where I live. The trail leads into Fort Washington State Park, and much of the trail runs close to Wissahickon Creek.
I set out for my walk around two in the afternoon. A cool breeze was flowing, making the crisp sunlight very aromatic. The rays of sun were hugging the brown grasses like newly married couples. It appeared as if the Greek Sun God and Earth God decided to come out of their graves on this very day and, in the ecstasy of their dance, were leaving tracks of light and shade on the hallowed grounds. The leafless trees, totally oblivious to their glorious nudity, were shamelessly bathing in the sunlight. I sat down for a moment on a bench by the side of the creek. Before sitting I had not realized that on the other side of the creek a doe and her fawn were standing; they both looked at me and with majestic rejection of my intrusion in their space, turned around and walked back into their paradise. I thought in one respect they are superior to us. We humans do not know how to live fully in the present - we constantly drag the garbage from past, convert it into a monster called future and as a result the present gets totally obliterated. These animals live in timeless eternity called the present moment without baggage of past or worries for future.
I felt this timelessness in the flow of the creek and in the sound made by a bird flying overhead. There was an unquenchable thirst in me to stretch this moment before it was broken by another thought. The thought of clinging to this experience was itself what propelled me away from my trance. Though, for at least that tiny moment, I felt like I had experienced a sense of timelessness. I remembered the following piece of wisdom from Rumi: The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead the time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but timelessness.
We all experience the taste of this timelessness in different moments of extreme feeling – maybe looking at your child smiling for the first time or perhaps listening to music that transforms you into a state of peaceful trance. Unfortunately, afterwards, we are only left with an altered memory. Our mind incessantly churns out thoughts and in the resulting cacophony, the call of our heart gets drowned. The experience of timelessness relies on the journey of mind to heart to hear the song of silence in between its beats.
Buried in my thoughts I had started walking again. My thoughts returned to the park by observing a nearby man and woman. They were totally oblivious to their surroundings and each other, like two disembodied beings, and were occupied likely talking to two disembodied beings elsewhere. They had intruded my space much the same way I had in the space inhabited by the deer. My thoughts went on to the dead leaves yearning to give their essence back to earth by completing the circle. Tickled by the light wind, they were giggling and flying from place to place. Just a few weeks ago, these leaves were a riot of colors rejoicing in their eminent death. In India, it is said that mystics radiate colors of spirituality before their death, which only enlightened kindred spirits can see and appreciate. The dying leaves do not discriminate; they enchant and enlighten everyone who is willing to look and hear.
After walking a little more than two miles, I reached the bird watching station within the park. I was going to take a seat at a bench. A senior couple reached at the same time, so I gave the seats to them (my vanity was very pleased with me for this act of generosity). For some inexplicable reason I sat down under a tree on a bed of leaves. I started thinking about my walk in the park: my encounter with the deer, my study of Rumi’s quote, and my easy ability to get lost in a thought when I’m in nature. I intuitively know that the time is within us and how we relate to it gives meaning to eternal life. I think that each person can find such meaning in their work, in their connectedness with nature, with friends and family, and most of all in by spending a few minutes a day in contemplative solitude.
It was a matter of time before a few of those giggling leaves fell on my lap. Looking at the “dead” leaves, a thought entered my mind: I am not going to die of cancer but instead, die of being lived. My mind and heart were in unison, agreeing in chorus that this was indeed an enlightening, not morbid, thought.