Look out the window of any building at the jungle below, and wonder at our enormous complexity and speed, noise and chaotic imposition of order. Marvel at the evidence of productivity, the direct result of our own activity, the scion of a stampeding herd of racing minds. And high up in that aerie, we speed through our own life, don’t we – in our thoughts and actions, in our food, friendships and family – making noise and with a showy waving of arms meant as display, a bird on a branch. Look at me, we say. What a bird I am! And as we strut and flash the plumage that proclaims our existence, we may not yet grasp that the world we have created is in our own image, that the gods we pray to are the ones we have created, that the sky we imagine over our heads is purple instead of blue, and that we have little concept at all of things as they really are.
Then, the last day of autumn. An expectant snow is waiting to fall, the air dry and electric, and we’re standing in house shoes, peering out a large window onto a lawn, looking at an old elm tree there, perhaps. And we realize we’ve never really looked at that tree before, with its large knot that looks like the head of a horse, and a bluebird house hanging crookedly to one side. Where did that come from?
Then we see something else: We catch sight of our reflection in the windowpane. We stare, transfixed. Again we have the sensation of never having laid eyes on this phenomenon, this person, before. We quickly judge the reflection as that of someone who might have done better to attend more closely to their health over the years; maybe we’re round or bent. Gossamer echoes of physicians’ or spouses’ admonitions sound vaguely somewhere far down the corridors of the past – by now, memories of memories and nothing more. In that simple moment, and mostly against our will, our mind can wander onto the thin ice of mental inventory.
We evaluate how we have been going and going, how busy we have been and the places we have traveled to and seen and toured – five cities in five days! – all at the speed of jets, cars, and that newest mirror for our vanity, the speed of light. We inventory our friends – 600 and counting on Facebook; how many followers on Twitter? – and for a moment feel justified. But our self-satisfaction collapses quickly once we think of our flesh-and-blood friends. Who are they? We’re to be forgiven a moment of shock if our inventory reveals that we have few real friends, or none.
We see for the first time the reflected man as the bird on the branch, always displaying and proclaiming, dancing about, high on the branch, scarcely seeing the tree he’s standing in. Our intuition hints at calm – the elm tree, the birdhouse. How does one enter one’s own life? Is there a secret passageway into the present, a peaceful realm furnished only with life’s fundamental glories? The reflection regards us as we realize: It is only through the door of the present – entered slowly and mindfully, that such pleasures of the human spirit can be experienced. It is the only way to enter the moment of being truly alive.
The sage once said that simplicity is the doorway to the present. Outside our window – tree, sky, earth – the first snowflakes of winter weave through the branches of the old elm – early this year, we say.