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.



I spent the last few days of 2014 alone at home, sifting through closets, arranging rooms, and dusting the forgotten corners. I disposed of, or passed along, things I no longer needed, and cleared space – not for something new, but for simplicity. I treated these days like a meditation and remained as conscious of the present moment as I could. There were things everywhere and if taken in as a whole, our home appeared quite chaotic. Instead, I lifted a single book and chose to be aware of only that single book as I placed it on the shelf; or, I took a cloth and cleaned a mirror, choosing to be aware only of that mirror. By the last day, the climate of chaos had been transmuted into something far more akin to order, and I felt calm – even when taking it in as a whole. Compelled by the desire to mark this new climate in a clear and simple way, I decided to rearrange the couches in our living room.

Before touching any of them, I sat down at the kitchen table, drafted the room on a piece of paper, and cut out a set of scaled representations of each piece of furniture. This wasn’t necessary, but it tied the moment back to adolescent memories of rearranging my bedroom furniture in the days when my bedroom was still my soul territory. There was something nostalgic and pleasing about this process, and after I had decided on a configuration that made sense to me, I confidently began executing my plan.

The first couch moved easily. I put it out of the way to make room for the larger hide-a-bed. I moved the round coffee table as well, and then set about clearing the corner. I pulled the first side of the heavy couch away from the wall, and then suddenly stopped. At this time of day, and at this time of year, the living room is full of golden light. It spills across the carpet and fills corners that otherwise remain shadowed and unnoticed. There against the wall, as if resting peacefully, was the body of a small bird. I don’t know how long she had been there. Her eyes were closed and desiccated, but her feathers seemed perfect. Somehow, she looked comfortable, as if sleeping; but there was no movement. I felt immediately responsible, and at the same time, oddly privileged, as if this bird had come into our home with a lesson for me to learn, or a message that needed to be discerned. I had already been thinking of death during the days before and I recalled the Buddhist meditation that some novices undergo. For several weeks, perhaps longer, they sit before a decaying body until they reach a kind of consciousness that frees them from their attachment to their own body.

I thought of burying the bird, but then remembered a line of poetry I had once written: “We bury our dead that we might go on pretending/We avert our gaze knowing what mortal eyes will hold it.” And so I lifted her body with a thin piece of cardboard and carried it to the soil of a potted plant. I let them to lie together and continued my task, still thinking of the bird and wondering why she had come. Did her arrival mark the year’s end – a year rife with challenges and so many internal deaths and rebirths? Was it a portent of something else to come? Was it a universal response to my recent meditations on death and the questions I had been asking about the discrepancy between our awareness of death’s inevitability and our own feeble attempts at immortality? Or, was it nothing? At the risk of sounding ungrounded, I felt quite sure that the bird had chosen to die here in our home, and this made me immediately endeared to her.

Sometimes the confluence of rivers overwhelms us and what was once a steady stream of discouragement is compounded and reaches an edge that cannot endure it; what was once a river then cascades into a place of darkness. Discouragement becomes despair. We fall, like water over the edge of a cliff, and do not know what will happen next. Sometimes, something of our hope dies altogether and we must go on a long, deepening journey, through shadow and great sorrow, to find its resting place – if not to revive it, at least to be by its side and grieve for a while.

I have gone walking through the woods when discouragement has spilled over to become despair. I have gone to wilder places and I have felt a yearning for earth, felt the wanting of my body for burrowed alcoves, imagined the comfort of an earthen embrace. Desiring to lie down in a field, to allow the ground to slowly subsume me, I have ached, with homesickness, for the womb of clay from which my body was made and to which my body will eventually return.

The day after discovering the bird, my grandfather was taken to the hospital. When I went to see him, his face and his body were only vaguely recognizable. At the insistence of the nurses I put a gown over my body, a thick mask over my face, and a pair of gloves over my hands. I sat beside him and watched his breath, which was pushed into him, and then pulled back out of him by a hissing machine. I watched the wave of his pulse rise and fall on a small monitor. I followed the intricate lines of a web of tubes, which wove impersonally between his body and the stacks of machines that surrounded him. I sat beside him, and though I could not speak to him I prayed that he would not be afraid.

More than any analogous description of death, I appreciate most the understanding of death as being synonymous with birth. We live within the broad embrace of this temporal womb, where breath links us to life and where our fetal hearts beat only as our environment allows it. We are here, gestating, and though our bodies endure a slow decay, there is something else of us that is preparing for birth. Just as a fetus is suddenly compelled to what must seem like death, we too have a deep sense of timing that is not wielded by our conscious minds. We too will reach the day when this womb can no longer hold us, when something indescribable urges us towards the compulsory light that our conscious minds know nothing about. We too will reach a day when death and birth meet, like long lost friends, to share that single moment, to pass the torch of our existence from one to the other, that our existence might be carried on toward whatever happens next.

I wanted to stay for a long time. There was an expectation of movement that never came. His face and his hands looked like they belonged to a wax mannequin rather than a man. The coffin, though tasteful, seemed superfluous. A week had passed since I visited him in the hospital. A few days had passed since his death. This was not my grandfather. And for many, the comfort came from this, that although a body lay in front of them, my grandfather had already left it. I wanted to stay for a long time, because although I knew my grandfather was no longer there, I stood before the body that had been such a gift to him. I wanted to know what that meant. I wanted to know for myself as well, that although my body remains automated, and though it remains the womb that bears me, I will one day be born from it. It is a gift, but it is not I.

My cousins and I carried my grandfather’s body to the hearse. From the hearse we carried it to the grave where we laid it down above the raw cavity; so incongruous with the fine craftsmanship of the coffin. Words were spoken, flowers were passed around, and one by one the crowd dispersed until only a few of us were left; and then none. My one regret is that I walked away too soon, that I did not tarry awhile longer at this threshold of death, where the coarse earth lay naked before the sky, and where my grandfather’s body would once again become clay. I felt that old familiar longing for an earthen embrace. The sight of the soil compelled me. It comforted me. It whispered my name and I felt akin to it.

The bird came and what I first thought to learn from her arrival was the importance of making friends with death. I don’t know entirely what that means. We spend so much time denying the inevitability of death; we pretend we are immortal, or at least that immortality is possible. And maybe we are, but our bodies certainly are not. Making friends with death must at least begin by acknowledging his presence. Maybe then we could even one day say hello to him, or even smile. Maybe one day we could approach him, unafraid, and begin a dialogue with the one who will, one day, be responsible for carrying us forward into whatever happens next.

– C