The Tree of Life

I am looking out my kitchen window at the tree in my neighbors’ backyard. It is October and the green leaves are turning golden/red, some beginning to fall to the ground. The coleus on their porch looks slightly less full and is fading in color. Soon the tree will be bare, and the coleus leaves will also have fallen to the yard below. This is the cycle of life, for trees, for plants, for humans. Seeds to fallen leaves, becoming one with the Earth from which they grew. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Baby, child, adult, elder. Birth, death, rebirth.

The tree of life has many branches, many experiences. If I compare myself to a tree, I can see the human life cycle playing out in the seasonal changes of the tree. We are born in spring, bloom in summer, come into our full colorful wisdom in autumn, and then gradually, gently, one by one, our leaves begin to fade and fall. The winter of our lives appears so much closer then. We can see death in the distance. Ironically, though, as we age, we also begin to see spring on the other side.

When I was a child, I feared death as an end, eternity as an empty void. As I grow older, I am beginning to sense the never-ending continuity of life and death. They are really one, these two experiences that we have been led to believe are polar opposites. The whole, seen together, is Presence, living consciousness that is eternal. If you have a spiritual background, you may see that as God or the Divine Mother; it is also what we are at the soul level. No separation—between God/dess and soul, between life and death. It is all infinite consciousness experiencing itself in a multitude of ways. Awareness, arising from the soul, expands throughout our lives until we are able to perceive the oneness fully.

Soul awareness emerges differently in each person. You may not see the divine fusion of life and death until the moment you transition. Or you may be shown it much earlier, at a time of great crisis or great love. Any profound human experience can open the doors of perception so that the light pours through. We all fear facing death alone with no sense of meaning, no light shining to show us the way. But the deeper you surrender to the mystery of life, the greater your trust grows in both meaning and light. Faith replaces fear.

I am not traditionally religious, but I do believe in a Spirit that fills the cosmos with light and beauty. I feel this Presence every day of my life when I watch the sun rise or hear birds singing; it has been with me since birth and will continue after I die. I see it in the tree outside my window and in all the living beings on Earth, plant, animal, and human. In the stones and stars as well. In my own heart. Everything and everyone is part of it, something so magnificent that words cannot encompass its gentle loving power. Our minds think death exists as an end, but it is only a transition to another beginning. If you look closely at the Tree of Life, its secrets reveal themselves, and you see the cycles of Spirit that never end and the exquisitely sweet flow of infinity itself.

Fear and Trust

We all live with both fear and trust inside us. Fear is the residue of past painful events and the emotional triggers that can make us relive them and think something similar may happen again. Today the entire world lives with the fear engendered by a global pandemic and the illnesses and deaths that have accompanied it. In addition, political discord divides our planet. Each of us handles such fears in a variety of ways: distraction, denial, depression, nervous apprehension, sadness. Or just allowing the feelings to flow through and accepting them. The acceptance arises from a trust that lives deep within each of us. We were born with it.

Trust is the spirit of life itself. It is a connection to something greater than the specific events of your life. Some call this God or Universal Consciousness, but it is beyond labels and even beyond human understanding. The longer you live, the more opportunities you have to remember this connection and open to trusting it.  Sometimes in the midst of a very frightening or sad experience, you may realize that acceptance is the only thing that brings peace of mind. A peace that sidesteps the mind’s attempts to understand and control the situation. Acceptance opens the door to trust. Trust that comes from the wisdom of the heart and soul.

I have had many opportunities to get in touch with acceptance and trust in recent years. I’ve moved from one part of the country to another and then back again, my sense of “home” in constant flux. A dear lifetime friend died unexpectedly, and I felt my heart break. I have also lived through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Each of these life events affected me immensely and ultimately taught me to let go at the deepest possible level. Cancer, in particular, was a teacher of the most profound wisdom with regard to acceptance. When I accepted that cancer was indeed part of my soul’s path for this lifetime, I was able to move through the experience with trust instead of fear. It has been a year since my diagnosis and treatment, and the deeper truths I learned inform my life daily.

Simultaneously, COVID too has been a major factor for me in living with acceptance. The specter of COVID and its variants forms the background for our lives now, whether we try to ignore it or think of it continually. Perhaps it has come to teach us on a grand scale that there are things we can’t control and that only acceptance will bring peace of mind. Whether it is a hurricane, a pandemic, or a physical condition, there are always events we just have to surrender to and do the best we can to live through consciously. Life is a drama that includes every extreme. At times it feels overwhelming, and we want to rewrite the script, forgetting that we designed our life path before birth.

Everything is happening for our awakening and expansion. If you can embrace this truth, it puts you in touch with the peace at your core. A peace that gently moves you through fear to trust. Trust in the events of your life, however they may appear, and trust in your self and your soul’s journey. You may think everything is chaos in your life, but your heart and soul know better. It is all a sacred passage into the light of peaceful awareness.

Don’t Lose Heart

Life on Earth is not easy. Sometimes it feels like we’re on an endless runaway roller coaster. The polarities of love and hate are constantly playing out: Woodstock and 9/11, rainbow lights on the White House and January 6. Celebration and crisis. Elections. War and peace. It can feel overwhelming. I wonder at times how we ended up on a planet with so much conflict and duality. Then, I remember why—to experience it all and be a bridge to our next evolutionary phase. The key is not to lose heart. Because our hearts are the entry point to everything.

A heart-centered life runs on the energy of love. It leads us to places and events we are destined to experience, people we are meant to meet.  If you are walking down the street, and a stranger smiles and speaks, your spirits lift. If you see beautiful flowers in a neighbor’s garden, you can’t help but smile. When a friend is in tears from a life event that causes them pain, a hug can help you both feel better. If you can reach the point of laughing together at some passing silliness, the world seems less sad and overwhelming. This is what it means to let your heart lead the way. 

What happens when you smile or laugh out loud? Your energy changes, your heart opens. Suddenly, your entire view of life shifts. That’s why it’s called a “hearty laugh”—it’s full-out engaged with life and freely expressed. These are the moments that crack the shell of negativity or mental downswing that we are often prone to these days as the world twists and turns with change. If you can smile, even in the face of fear, conflict, or crisis, then hope is not lost. The human spirit takes a deep breath and continues. From a soul view, everything is unfolding as it’s meant to. The soul is always smiling because it sees the big picture; it sees the evolution of humanity.

We humans often get stuck in the day-to-day dramas of life. We think that’s all that exists, and when we are feeling pain or sadness, we believe it will never go away. Yet emotions are always in motion; if we allow them to flow through us, they dissipate. If we are lucky enough to have a funny friend who makes us laugh in the midst of our upset, we see how everything can suddenly lighten up when humor is introduced. This is probably why comedians play such a key role on Earth–to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. In truth, life is a constantly shifting reflection of your inner state. What you are experiencing is very much tied to how you see the world.

That may sound simplistic, but it actually plays out in a very real way. If you consciously shift your viewpoint, your experience of events changes too. And smiling and laughing with each other can be catalysts for that shift. Countless popular songs are written about smiling, laughing, or “singing in the rain.” Poets and wise teachers remind us that facing life’s challenges together, hearts linked, keeps our perspective lighter and more positive. So, no matter what is happening in your life or in the world, remember that your gentle heart is the wisest guide you could possibly have; keep it wide open and you will not lose your way.

“Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child
Don’t harden your heart or your hands
Know to find joy in the darkness is wise
Although they will think you don’t understand…
Stay gentle, stay gentle
The most powerful thing you can do
Oh, gentle, unbreakable you”
—Brandi Carlile

The View from Above

I don’t know if it’s because I have lived through breast cancer or through multiple decades on Earth, but I see the world differently now. When you face a serious diagnosis, identification with the smaller concerns of the individual self begins to slip away. And what seemed so important at 20 falls to the wayside later in life. I have written previously about living as soul more than identity now. Open heart space instead of crowded mental highways. That’s as close as I can come to expressing the change. Different experiences engage me. I rise at dawn, meditate, do yoga, and write. I listen to the music of morning birdsong and nighttime crickets. I take long walks in Nature and find that my awareness deepens as I walk wordlessly in the stillness there. (“Be still and know you are God.”)

Don’t get me wrong—I love my friends and family and all the varied parts of my life, past and present. It’s just different now. Often I feel immersed in a kind of expansive consciousness, and anything less powerful and compelling seems only a passing distraction. I know that every moment on Earth is precious, and I appreciate that with all my heart. Yet, part of me is sitting out among the stars seeing the entire cosmos beyond time and space. From that place, there is a letting go of doing into just being. Witnessing life and allowing it to flow with and through me, without attachment or judgment.

Is this the course our lives take, from birth to death? A continuous gradual awakening to a loving awareness that spans all dimensions? Perhaps we are each experiencing this in our own unique way. Some of us speak of it, some don’t. Some of us move forward excitedly; others hold back. It doesn’t matter. We will all reach the same “place” eventually, perfectly, and no clock is measuring our progress. It is the soul’s journey, beyond time and space.

I used to be frightened of flying, terrified that the plane would crash, and I would die. Now I feel more like I am being transported on angel wings when I fly, given a secret glimpse into a world of clouds and light that some think of as heaven. Maybe it is. Actually, maybe everything we experience, however we label it, is heaven because there is nothing else. Infinite consciousness experiencing itself, on Earth and in the skies. When we die, we realize that everything is one magical dream, ours and God’s.

Too far out or intangible? Well, that’s the view from above—everything blends seamlessly into everything else. We humans like to separate and delineate, but it’s only a mind game to entertain us while we’re here. As we depart this dimension, we see every boundary dissolve into oneness, and we realize that we came to Earth for exactly that experience.

Make of Your Life a Song

In one of her most frequently quoted poems, Mary Oliver asks what we each plan to do with our “one wild and precious life.” A question that touches the depths of the soul—and the heart of all life on Earth. We were given our human lives by a universal intelligence beyond naming. Within that act of grace is infinite possibility and expression as well as a world of incredibly diverse experiences. Each day presents a kaleidoscope of wonders to us. When we are children, we see those wonders clearly, our eyes sparkling with delight. As adults, we begin to take them for granted. Our vision may become clouded with habit, loss, or misfortune. Life, of course, can be challenging as well as wondrous. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to continue to experience wonder no matter how your life unfolds.

One year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It shook me to my core. Yet my actual experience of the months of treatment, in spite of any discomfort or pain, was filled with moments of connection to the Spirit of life, which carried me through the days with surprising synchronicities and inspiration. In the most profound of those moments, I felt one with everything, my own life part of a universal flow of beingness. Within that, my sense of wonder at the daily miracles of life—sunrise, birdsong, human kindness—reawakened and grew. Not that I had lost it, but so often life events get in our way. Our perception is incomplete, shaded. Until suddenly, an event or experience shines a light on each moment, showing it to be the miracle it is.

It may not be cancer that awakens this latent sense in you. It could be anything, perhaps just the course of a lifetime. Many of us, as we grow older, realize the relatively short time we have on this planet. A poignancy and appreciation fill us, an intention not to waste a moment in regret or complaint. The “one wild and precious life” we were gifted with suddenly reveals itself in all its splendor. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet each day with joy and gratitude.

There are countless ways to do this, as many possibilities as there are living beings on Earth. Those who have gone before us advise us to share with others our unique essence, our humanity as well as our divinity (they are inseparable) There is no one else like you, so don’t hold back. Make of your life a peaceful prayer, a poem of inspiration, a celebratory dance. Like the wood thrush and robin, make of your life a song that carries the love in your heart to all who hear it. Your soul will guide you.

This is why we were born, why we journey through challenge and crisis, to finally come to understand that each moment carries within it Heaven on Earth. The reward for living, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is life itself. It sometimes takes an entire lifetime (or many lifetimes) to come to this realization, but each of us is destined to do so. We are currently living through an extraordinary time of transformation on this planet, one in which separation from Spirit and from one another will fall away, sometimes gradually and sometimes with a thunderous crash. We may think we are lost, but there is much more here than what our habitual perceptions show us. Our days are woven from a tapestry of miracles. Open your heart, and let it reveal to you the sweet song your life is meant to be.