The enormous tree stands across the street from me, over a wooden fence. It provides home to a community of crows and it seems to be the timeless, motionless being in our midst. It listens to the musings of a community of nurses from Mercy Hospital who smoke under its shade. It fills my window with leaves and it is constantly changing. We don't notice it most of the time... But this time of year, that change becomes vivid, like fire.
Last year, we moved into this apartment in late summer and soon the fall came along and the maple turned the most extraordinary red. It would catch the dawn light and glow crimson.
Sometimes, when I was up early and lucky enough to witness the scene, I would see one of the nuns slowly pace around the garden where the maple lives. She walks in her full black habit, with its singular flash of red hanging down below her waist, and she counts beads.
It's the most sublime sight. This secret garden in the West End of Portland, Maine. A holy mother walking and praying, counting beads for others. I would stand in the window and watch this sight when I was lucky enough to see it: the vivid red tree, the sunlight electrifying it, and the solitary woman sending prayer out into the universe.
Imagine that you are sitting with your parents next to you, your family, your friends and loved ones. Imagine them all sitting around you. And contemplate how they suffer. Start to see, vividly, the birth, aging, sickness, death. The continual change... See how this process repeats and repeats.
You may be reading this and thinking, what a miserable thing to do... contemplating how your loved ones suffer? But this is the thing... it's like looking at that tree. The reality of the tree. How the green glow moves and the leaves fall. And this is happening all around us, all the time. With our bodies, our loved ones, our life. A continual cycle of change. What are we to do with this? It's heartbreaking...
When we bring our mind down to our heart in meditation, and look at this scene, really deeply look, a wish begins to arise. To release them from the pains of aging and change. Geshe-la writes:
"We imagine that our parents of this life are beside us, and that they are surrounded by all living beings of the six realms in human aspect. Then, while focusing on all these living beings, we engage in the following contemplation:
I cannot bear the suffering of these countless mother beings. Drowning in the vast and deep ocean of samsara, the cycle of contaminated rebirth, they have to experience unbearable physical suffering and mental pain in this life and in countless future lives. I must permanently liberate all these living beings from their suffering."
From this thought, it's a little bit like that dawn sun that appears over the horizon.
Our heart shifts away from the mundane, as compassion comes streaming in. It's been there all along actually. It's just been obscured by the clouds of our thoughts, the everyday worries. Contemplating the suffering of others awakens a deep sort of love, a protective power in the heart, and we train in holding that vast loving mind.
When I finished the meditation, I opened up my email and there was a message waiting for me from a friend in Shanghai who has just lost her father, and her close friend in the matter of months. She was writing to say she was here, just about, and her heart was hurting. And she was happy to hear from me.
It made me want to sit down and write. About the nun and the light and the tree. And the leaves that fall. It made me want to capture that feeling, that image, and send it back out. Because maybe someone will be looking out of their window, and feel the prayer being sent out.
And it was a reminder, also, to keep on sitting. To keep rising with the sun, and build time into my schedule to move inward. To move into that inner landscape. Where physical boundaries fall away. Where mind can meet mind, and travel to the other side of the planet in an instant. It was a reminder to pray. Consistently and expansively, for the well-being of all others. To become that dawn sun.
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Photo credits: Top: Courtesy, Jim from Lexington, KY, USA, Wiki Commons; Below, The Buddhist Prayer Wheel,
Mlle Daria, Wiki Commons