When time slows softly, and my mind slows more softly still, and when the calender year reaches its imaginary zenith, and so must imaginarily pause in the infinitesimal moment preceding its descent, and when earth, unaware, continues to circle, and when the day quiets and I can finally be still; when I can kneel for the quiet stillness inside me, for the quiet embers to burgeon to my knowing – I breathe, and from that breath, a perfect cord of singular direction begins to extend, first slowly through the tissues of my body, through the muscles of my heart, through even the most diminutive cells, through the breastbone that guards my heart, and then through the skin that adorns me; it escapes even the thin, imagined atmosphere surrounding my body and pierces the warm air of my living room where, in the dim light, it continues its unerring, attenuate path to the far wall, where it does not stop; it slides unflinchingly through the unseen spaces between the fibers of cedar, passing easily to the other side, into the sudden shock of crisp, cold air, by which it is touched, but not arrested; continuing toward the birch tree, which leans toward the house, it moves quietly through her papery bark, her dormant rings of sapwood, then heartwood, then sapwood again; out past many more trees, through an entire forest, it extends before breaking from the trees altogether into the clear, night air, where it pierces the absence of clouds, briefly, before, without a moment’s hesitation, it breaks from earth’s yearning pull and its speed becomes unimaginable; several planets float past, and then the stars, and then galaxy after galaxy until it becomes so vast, and the line has no plausible end, that I can do nothing else but stop there, breathing calmly upon the embers of my awareness, looking down its infinite path until it disappears into an endless unknown. And, at last, I am still. And still I am kneeling, quietly breathing in my living room with an awareness that, in any of an infinite number of directions, a similar and yet wholly unique line could be drawn from the same eternal source within me, or within any other, and that from that place, knowing of the infiniteness all around us, any one of us can claim to be at the center of everything.
There is a birch tree outside my home. Her papery bark shifts in the wind and in the morning, when looking out from my kitchen window, I watch the sun rise amidst her triad of limbs. I wash dishes at the sink and though I try, as Thich Nhat Hanh prescribes, to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes” my awareness keeps reaching out to the tree in front of me, whom the Celts named Beith in the belief that these trees, more than any other, call us to release the past, to allow all that has been gestating within us to be freely born, and to be reborn ourselves into an identity bearing a closer resemblance to the truth. Birch are self-propagating, and this one, leaning gently toward my kitchen window, reminds me of the grace of faint inner movement and the needlessness of stagnation. Whatever is in me to be born, I alone can give birth to it. In the clearest of minds, unaffected by the trances that would delude me, I can know what those things are; I can feel the life of them slowly taking form and I can settle into a calm sense of expectation, knowing that the things I yearn for, yearn also for me.
The calender year has reset. The earth, in its continual sweep around the sun, has come full-circle, and we have returned to the same place we were one calender year ago. We came back, and the sameness of some things might discourage us; the vast difference of other things might break our hearts. With every cycle completed there are losses and gains, things learned and things unlearned, people drawn nearer and others gone altogether. Equally, through both sorrow and elation, the only thing that remains constant is the ember deep within us, glowing calmly near our hearts, from which an infinite number of infinite lines extend out into an infinite universe. And though our minds cannot always find it, there is comfort in knowing that its existence does not waver at the whims of our minds’ misconceptions. Belief and thought: these are of the mind, and we are much more than our minds.
Like a stand of birch trees, we share a single, ancient birth, and the place of birthing remains in us still. From it, we draw upon life in slow, steady breaths, uniting the expanding silver branches of our conscious minds with the deeply rooted awareness of our ancient subconscious. We tithe our conscious thoughts upon an idea of identity that can alienate us from a deeper source, but when we are aware that every fraction is part of a greater whole, we can attune more closely to something more complete. It is in this harmony that our extended awareness can bring about the birth of dreams and intentions. It is in this harmony that our inner walls dissolve and that which has been burgeoning within us, even without our conscious intention, can be made manifest.
Without attention, we can easily identify with our supposed limitations; we can base the trajectories of our lives on all of the things we cannot do and quickly find ourselves hedged in by a cacophony of dubious inner voices. When we deny ourselves the truth, we kneel in acquiescence to the countless, imagined walls that sever the infinite cords of our awareness. We kneel and imagine that each of the perfectly straight, infinite lines extending from our hearts, eventually meet a barrier: a point of denial that our own conscious minds diligently enforce. The line itself continues on beyond our conscious mind’s perception. The endlessness of it is irrevocable, but we are arrested by imagined walls, built up by imagined thoughts in an imagined reality. Our subconscious mind, with roots delving deep into an ancient oneness that can never be fully denied, knows better.
Wrap the memory of fallen leaves around your hope. Cocoon yourself in dreams and listen quietly. When it begins, and the birch, suddenly propagating amongst themselves, lessen their silence beneath the frost, when their attenuate dreams attempt, in multitudinous and minutely flickering light, to blossom – be ready. There is a heart in you that is in me also. Awake from the trance of endless thoughts and acknowledge the truth of dreams born in you to be born from you. Unravel the constraints that bind your dreams and let them live.
There are birch all around my home. They fill the woods with a whiteness against the snow and though they seem dormant beneath the winter wind, beneath his cold caresses and admonishing whispers, their quietude is pregnant with multitudinous expression. They are silent now, and dreaming, but for every unborn leaf, furled and waiting within their branches, there is a recognition of the eternal. They are attuned to their nature, unaffected by the trances that so often dissuade us from our own truth. In the winter, they dream, and in the spring their dreams are born. They move from the seasons with a loyalty that acknowledges both the winter wind and the summer sun. They move, slowly, but with perfect calm.
The new calender year has begun – not in the dead of winter, but in her womb. When we have the courage to peer into this part of ourselves, to attune our minds to the endlessness of dreams, we can see that there is no barrenness there, and that even if we have have endured stagnation, or resigned to the careful construction of self-imposed restraints, this part of us is never lost, and it is never barren nor corrupt. It waits, tirelessly, for us.
My Grandmother, having lost her husband nearly one year ago, is preparing to leave her home. The unraveling of its contents has been going on for months. Even still, the enigmatic inventions of her husband are being discovered in closet spaces, and garage rafters, and basement corners. No one knows what they are; all we can do is scratch our heads, which I think would have caused him either to chuckle to himself or explain, in his mumbled brevity, that which was obvious to him, and which would become obvious – and ingenious – to us, once explained. My Grandmother is less concerned with her late husband’s gadgets. She will miss the view from her kitchen window, which faces west, across the street, toward a small, neighbourhood park. Sunlight fills the kitchen sink in the late afternoon and in the center of the yard, grown very large in the decades since it was planted, is my Grandfather’s birch tree, which he uprooted from a forest a long time ago. I don’t know what compelled him to go in search of it, or why he chose it from among the others. He brought it back with him, dug a hole in the middle of the yard, and gave it a new place of birth. I like to imagine he intended it for my Grandmother, that it would grow over her in a slow, sheltering dance, and that she, washing dishes beneath it – when the sun was setting and the summer breeze was passing through the window – would know the blessing of his intention. Apart from his tinkering, brooding nature, my Grandfather had a patient respect for growth. He puzzled over loose screws, faulty tools, and disobedient motors, but when he put something into the earth, his attendance was different. His calculating, curious mind bowed out in acquiescence to something not of his mind. There was nothing to force or augment; there was only nature, of which he was intimately a part. He let his birch grow, knowing there was little else to do.