Yesterday, for the first time this year, I saw leaves falling in large numbers and realized that autumn is here again.
I love autumn in Denver. The colors are just spell-binding. Autumn is amazingly beautiful in Lahore too, where I am originally from!
It also made me think about a few things. Like, for one, how quickly the years are passing now. I am 49 now. Just a few years back, I could never see the whole year passing by like I see it now. Or relate things happening in the current year to those happening in previous years so clearly. I don’t know if its age-related or if its just a new kind of perspective I have picked up or both.
I am also thinking of how weather can be such a huge teacher of how to look at life. Autumn is the end of one life cycle, one journey. And it also tells us that another life cycle, another journey, is going to begin soon. In a few months, spring will be upon us. New buds will start appearing.
A fresh start… and then all over again!
That’s probably how life is for us, humans, too. I think we pass through these journeys of life time and again, just like spring comes again and again.
I don’t have first hand knowledge of what is normally called ‘death’, not yet anyways. However, I do think that birth and death are processes happening constantly in our own bodies and all around us. Also in our minds, where new ideas replace old ones constantly. The old ideas and thoughts never go away completely. They remain in the background, in the storehouse of the mind, and the new ideas and thoughts take the front seat and govern our lives, till they themselves are replaced by other new ideas and thoughts. And the process goes on forever, till we ‘die’. And upon death, I feel that all of the thoughts and ideas of the ‘deceased’ (which some people call the ‘soul’ of the deceased) are released and form part of a huge reservoir of ideas and thoughts which I call the universal mind, i.e., a mind that is housed not in an individual body, but which exists in what we think of as the empty space. It is the sum total of all the thoughts and ideas that living beings have had over the millions of years. If we want to use the term ‘soul’, then this universal mind can also be called the universal soul.
Lets, if you have a few moments, look at a few things that come to me whenever I think about life and death.
Firstly, if we are all energy and if (as per the law of conservation of energy) energy can neither be created nor destroyed (it only changes from one form to another), then, do we really ‘die’? Or is death just the change of form?
Are we just packets of energy (energy quanta) which upon ‘death’ just return to the source? Like waves returning to the ocean? Like leaves falling in autumn? I was doing some research into the actual function of leaves. It appears that the function of leaves is basically to create food for the plant and to help it breathe, stay healthy and survive. Do we, humans, play the same part for the human race, i.e., help it survive? And then, like leaves, when we wither away, do we come back again? Like waves going back to the ocean and coming back? Is reincarnation a fact?
Is it all the same energy coming and going and coming back again from one big giant source of energy? Is this coming back what ancient Indian wisdom teachers (in Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism) called reincarnation?
The word, “re-incarnation” derives from the Latin words “carnis” (flesh) and “incarnari” (be made flesh). It means re-entering flesh.
If reincarnation is the generic re-manifestation of energy into physical form, then I probably understand it. It might be a process like the water cycle in nature, i.e., water on the ground evaporates, becomes clouds, which becomes rain and falls back to the ground and evaporates again. And the cycle continues forever.
If, on the other hand, reincarnation is defined as the coming back of specific individuals who died earlier, then I don’t understand. I cannot grasp the idea of a specific leaf, which falls in autumn, coming back as a leaf again. But I can see that trees do get their leaves back. I can see that the ocean continues to create waves. Similarly, human being are being borne every day.
I believe there is energy in the universe which takes up human form in the birth of a child. And then this child grows up and procreates and more energy takes up human form and so on and so forth. That is what life wants us to do, i.e., to perpetuate this play of life, leela, as ancient teachers called it. But in this process, we, individual human beings, develop this personality, this ego, which creates its own personal, emotional, professional, spiritual and other aspects of life and its self-importance, all of which drives us crazy. Life only wants us to procreate and keep the young ones safe. That is the only purpose of life, if there is any. And once we are done with that purpose, then, we are done. Then we just have to wait for autumn / death to come and take us back, like the falling leaf, like the receding wave in the ocean. It is another thing that we may not accept such a small, seemingly insignificant role in life. It is like being one of those extras in movies who appear in one small scene as part of a crowd and don’t do anything significant and then never appear in the rest of the movie. No, we want to be the lead actor. We want the movie to be about us. We want everything to revolve around us. We think that everything revolves around us. Our whole day (and our whole life) is spent dealing with the consequences of this self-importance.
There was a time (before I turned 35) when I never felt growing old. I used to feel forever young, like my age had frozen in time. I felt the same energy every day. It was an amazing feeling. Now, I can feel growing old. Things change. Mentally too. Some dreams and goals were fulfilled, creating ‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness’, some unfulfilled creating ‘sorrow’ or ‘distress’. Soon, I will be gone. My part in the play of life is already over. Autumn is here already. I do see it and I am not really scared or sad. I am not trying to hold on to things. I am trying to let go of stuff, physical and mental, and for the rest of this present journey I want to travel light. I want to keep letting go till I have nothing left. And hopefully that happens before the body withers away totally. So that, at the end, when the body is about to fall away, there is not remorse but a readiness to leave. Also, I want to experience what it would be like to have no attachments, nothing to fear, nothing to protect, no one to appease. Total freedom.
The leaf has to go one day, no matter how hard it holds on to the stem. The wave has to return, no matter how much it loves the shore. The more the leaf or the wave hold on to the stem or the shore, the harder it will be. Return is inevitable.
The only purpose of spirituality, if there is any purpose, would be to make us see the inevitability of the return. We have to go back home.
The ideal return is like the return of the leaf and the wave. They return lovingly. The leaf falls effortlessly. The wave returns so gracefully. There is love in the return. If we just sit and observe for a while how leaves fall, we will see it. Its like the leaf and the tree just kissed each other good-bye. There is no clinging, but a readiness. I love seeing it. I can see the love and the grace in the let-go on the part of both the leaf and the tree. Such a loving and graceful good-bye! Maybe that’s why some of us love autumn so much (and maybe some of us find it sad). It is like the tree knows and the leaf knows that while going home is mandatory, yet another journey, another life time awaits. Can we, human beings, depart like that?
If, while we are alive, we can learn to live naturally, i.e., just fulfilling the purpose of life and understanding and letting go of the life of the ego, with all its fears and attachments, then, perhaps, we can learn to return like leaves do. We can learn to be ready for the autumn of our life, so that when the time comes, we can kiss life good-bye lovingly and let the wind take us. And if we can do that, then, that is a life well spent. It is the most natural and, for me, the highest form of life!
I understand now that that’s what Lao Tzu and Krishna and Buddha and Jesus and Mohammad and Nanak and Rumi and Kabir and other great teachers were trying to tell us.