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.

The Magic of Springtime

Photograph © 2014 Peggy Kornegger
Photograph © 2014 Peggy Kornegger

Every year in early May, I spend three to six hours each morning at nearby Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Why? you may wonder. Well, Mt. Auburn, with its woodlands, lakes, and gardens, is a magnet for songbirds during their annual spring migration. They fly in by the hundreds on the way north from South and Central America. Some of them nest in the cemetery; others continue further to northern New England and Canada. But during the small window of time that they grace our local flowering trees and bushes, birdwatchers are blessed with up-close views of the colorful and musical birds of the tropics. Each year, I see or hear something new: a chestnut-sided warbler and a ruby-throated hummingbird having a territorial faceoff; a flycatcher singing next to a kinglet displaying its usually hidden ruby crown; a Baltimore oriole weaving a hanging nest in a tall maple tree; a wood thrush singing its fluted song on the path a few feet in front of me. These moments are magical—a fleeting glimpse into nature’s secret world.

Equally as exciting at this time of year are the perennial plants and flowers that break through the soil reaching to the light. How do they know when to move upward, when to grow stems, leaves, and flowers from their buried roots? It’s a yearly miracle that I witness both at Mt. Auburn and in my own backyard garden. Tightly furled leaves and flower buds appear first, gradually opening to the sun’s warmth and the longer light-filled days. A plant like Solomon’s Seal begins as a blunt grey/green finger pointing up out of the ground. Day by day, the finger slowly becomes a tall thick stem that bends and arches with opening leaves of fernlike delicacy. Beneath the leaves, along the arching stem, small white buds form and eventually open into a line of belled flowers. Swaying in the wind, Solomon’s Seal is one of the special visual gifts of spring, along with lilies of the valley, violets, grape hyacinth, columbine, and so many others.

Year after year, spring flowers and nesting birds remind me of life’s cycles of rebirth and renewal. After a long icy-cold Massachusetts winter like the one we have just experienced, this is a welcome message. Even in the freezing temperatures, even in the dark, life continues. The birds migrate south and return to raise their families; the plants withdraw into the earth to rest before emerging to bloom again in spring. Humans, too, have their cycles, though many of us have forgotten how to align ourselves with life’s rhythms of rest and renewal. If we look to the natural world, we can see that each living being has its own cycle of birth/flowering, rest/renewal, rebirth. In our over-scheduled, busy lives, we often careen out of control and crash in exhaustion. Yet, if we let go of so much trying and effort and allow life to unfold in cycles of activity, rest, renewal, and rebirth, we will feel so much more in tune with ourselves and all of life.

In spring’s wonders, there is great beauty, but there is also great wisdom, showing us firsthand the ever-turning circle of life/rest/rebirth that we too are part of. Something more powerful than our own attempts to control daily life is at play here. If we surrender to the flow of life that is so stunningly visible in springtime, we open ourselves to both inner peace and connection to spirit. As poet Mark Nepo has written so eloquently, “What a powerful lesson is the beginning of spring. All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see…. This moving through the dark into blossom is the threshold to God.”