The Cycle of Life

The approach of the autumn always makes me reflect on the nature of life; in particular the way the mysterious essence of life takes form and shape, ‘living’ for a while, then giving up its life and surrendering the elements of that form back to the earth from which it arose.

We all feel the poignancy of life’s seasons, but it’s useful to align ourselves with the processes of the autumn and reflect more deeply on the ‘life lessons’ that nature lays before us… quite literally.

Soon, I will walk in my muddy boots, through crisp and cracking leaves; leaves that, a few short months ago, glowed with the mysterious and magical green of the spring. These days, I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with their fate, as the inevitable process of attrition by the wind, rain…and my walking boots, crushes them into smaller and smaller particles of their former selves, ready for the chemical dissolution that will complete their natural recycling.

But is it just the leaves that are recycled in this way–or something else? The form is a container for the indefinable ‘aliveness’ of what is inside it: its essence. We never actually see this essence, but we feel it – and it glows with the joy of being alive within that spring green which heralds the return of collective outward life. This capacity to feel what we cannot see is an important part of being human – and is really another sense.

Spiritually, we can learn from each season. We can also use our feelings to see a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The four seasons offer us the following parts of this whole:

In spring, we feel the freshness, the new light, the change of colours, the return of milder weather. We also feel a surge of new energy as the Earth extends itself – through nature – into all the inherited forms of life. Like the leaves, each of these forms is unique; no two of them are exactly the same and yet each follows a type. The type is inherited through nature’s coding of evolution, and makes us what we are – physically.

The spring contains joy, a fundamental characteristic of being. In the spring it is made manifest.

The summer that follows is a time of fulfilment. The promise of the spring is carried to fruition beneath the calm, blue and golden skies above us. There is a feeling of completeness, a deep sense of inner rightness. The fruits of nature’s beauty are there for us to consume, so that we, in turn, partake of the bounty of fullness. In summer, we have that feeling of going outwards into the world.

The autumn is a time for reflection. Winter is around the corner but not yet with us. It is a time for gathering-in; preparing our selves – and those who depend upon us – for the harshness ahead. Our feeling of openness is replaced with the poignancy of knowledge of what lies ahead and a saying goodbye to the forms of things which have shared the spring and summer with us, such as the leaves falling from the mighty and enduring trees. Winds begin to pick up, again, completing the process of outer reduction, and the shaking free of the old.

But the autumn is also a time of harvest. We ‘plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground’ as the harvest hymn goes. Animals scatter the seeds of life for the natural world, ensuring life’s best chance for continuation away from the ‘tree’ from which they fell.

Finally, winter ‘reaps’ that which is no longer fit to contain the invisible life. But the strong things remain. The starkness of the outlines of bare trees dominate the natural landscape… but we cease to see them after a while. Trees are wonderful structures. Ouspensky described them as ‘living four-dimensional patterns’ because they show all the stages of their personal evolution.

We each have a winter tree inside us. It is the pattern of logical and emotional learning in our minds. Like a physical tree it shows us the forking and branching that our life’s journey has taken. It is a friend, an inner book; and we can learn much from its contemplation.

Nature’s key processes in the winter are beneath the ground – within the roots of organic life. They cannot be seen or felt, except by contemplation of the innermost purpose, while the bare structures of the trees above endure the cold, rain, ice and snow.

There will come a time to lay down that personal tree – to offer it and our life’s history to the greater cycle of life. We will have reached a different point of completion in this winter journey, and what we really are – invisible and ineffable – will return to the state from which it can begin a new life, restored, recharged and refreshed. Our small tree of experience will merge with the universe’s story, adding a tiny but important contribution that truly belonged to us, but which now may be read by all life.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Perfect peace

The sun had shone on a perfect day, buzzing with the sound of summer. The air was full of small noises… the distant squeals and laughter of children playing, insects busily going about their job, music carried on the breeze, the tearing of grass beyond the garden fence where the cattle munch their way through the lush green field and the constant song of birds. It was one of those days where you could read the season from its soundtrack, even here in the village.

Much later, I sat outside while the dog dozed in the cool night air and there was silence. It wasn’t just quiet … there was no breeze to rustle the leaves on the trees, no wisps of speech from late-night television wafting through open windows…not even the usual muted roar of the occasional car on the main road. With the door closed behind me to keep the moths safely outside, the quiet whirrs and hums of appliances could no longer be heard. The silence was complete.

I love the night… I always have. As a girl, in a more innocent world, I loved to walk long after dark, feeling the change in the city streets as people closed their doors and curtains, withdrawing their life, gathering it in to the centre of hearth and home. It was never silent, but there was a quieting of human presence… a strange, psychic ‘space’ and peace in the empty streets. I would watch the stars… at least, those that could compete with the sulphurous glow of the city… and I would dream.

It was, perhaps, an odd way for a young teenager to spend her evenings, but somehow there was a sense of security in that silent solitude. It was the one time in my day when I felt I could be no more and no less than me. There was no parental expectation, no teenage self-image to create or maintain for peers, no awkward self-consciousness, just a consciousness of Self as I set my mind free to wander. It was, I suppose, my introduction to the kind of walking meditation I would learn in later years.

But this evening was different. Deliberately becoming consciousness of the body is a technique often used in meditation. It encourages awareness of the here and now. But this was not the same; it was not deliberate at all, but a moment that arose spontaneously and brought with it a sense of peace and wonder all of its own.

There was a stillness to the night that is rare… a perfect pause. The absence of any kind of noise only seemed to enhance the vibrancy of the life around and within me. The only ‘sounds’ came from my own body and they were ‘heard’ only within. Observing and following my attention as it seemed to dance deeper, I was aware first of the constant whine of the tinnitus, a false sound that is only exacerbated by silence. I became conscious of each breath, of the blood in my veins and the beating of my heart, as I ‘listened’ to the silent rhythm of my body’s life and knew it for a tiny part of something vast and beautiful… just one small note in a great symphony.

There was a clarity to the moment, knowing that the body we inhabit is not who we are, that the mysterious thing we call life may animate, but exists beyond, the physical machine. That the life I think of as my own is simply a drop in a great well from which all life is drawn and in which we all share, from the warm, summer grass to the snuffling hedgehog, from the moths drawn irresistibly to the light behind the curtains to the dog snoring at my feet.

I thought about the scientific premise, so easily observed, that energy is never lost… it simply changes form or state when it reaches an apparent end.  As summer blossoms, the energy of the sun is captured and forms flowers. With summer past its zenith, the blooms fade , revealing their burgeoning fruits and seeds while the petals decay and disappear, becoming one with the earth from which they arose, the source of next year’s flowers.

Will the energy that is ‘me’ one day do the same? Not just the physical form returning to its component parts, but that invisible something we call life? My own belief is that it does, returning to its source as fuel for future lives, and, in the silence, I wondered whether what I have borrowed from the well will be returned depleted, enriched…or simply in its original state? And yet, I thought, did  an answer really matter? Any borrowed gift must always be respected and returned  with care.

Perhaps darkness is the time for unanswerable questions. The dog yawned and shifted. I felt closer to her than ever, feeling the shared bond of life as I reached down to bury my hands in her fur.