Sunday, 16 October 2016

Falling Leaves: Lessons in Living

“Tired of Clinging” by Richard Bach

Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, 'I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.'

The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than boredom!'

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'

And the one carried in the current said, 'I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.'

But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.

By Richard Bach, from "Illusions"

I was in the gym the other day going through a stretching routine, trying to loosen up my tight hamstrings. Something I do not enjoy doing as it’s painful, but something I know I need to do. As I was doing so I looked up and noticed one of the trainers I chat regularly to looking a little glum. I asked him how he was and we started to chat. He began by complaining about having to fill in for a colleague leading a class he didn’t seem prepared for. He then talked about feeling weary and not liking this time of year when everything is changing. He said he loved the summer and didn’t mind the cold of winter it’s just that he wasn’t overly keen on these days in between when everything is changing and unsettled. He then cracked on with getting himself in the mood to lead the class, which I’m sure he did a great job of doing. I have no doubt he didn’t have any trouble once it began. It was just the lead up that caused him the anxiety. I don’t think he is alone in this.

Autumn is here. I love autumn, "beautiful autumn, glorious autumn, best of the year." Well maybe not the best. It is a season like every season that has its own beauty. The beauty of autumn is symbolised in the falling leaves. When everything just seems so beautiful because it is dying. Summer is over now. We had a long summer, but it has finally come to an end and now we are in the season of the falling leaves. The season of reflection and the season of change and preparation for the coming winter when stillness reigns before the re-birth of spring.

It easy to see autumn as an inbetween time, but I believe that this is a mistake. In so doing we can miss its beauty and power; in so doing we end up just wishing this time away; in so doing we wish our lives away and fail to experience what is here right now; in so doing we fail to experience the spiritual nature of our lives; and in so doing our lives can quickly become meaningless. To live spiritually requires us to increase our sensitivity to life. This requires us to be fully alive to all that makes up our lives, whatever we are experiencing.

The mistake we can so often make is to wish our lives away. Let’s not do that this autumn; let’s experience the beauty and richness of this season; let’s learn our lessons from it too; let’s learn from those falling leaves.

The falling leaves can teach us so much about the spiritual life and spiritual living. They remind me of another mistake we often make. Yes we often want to rush through things and wish they were over therefore failing to truly experience the gift of the moment. That said we can often do something which inhibits the moment equally. How many of us want to cling on to what we are experiencing right now. David Bumbaugh captures this beautifully in the following meditative poem “Dancing in the wind”

“Dancing in the wind” David Bumbaugh

Except for a few stubborn holdouts
The tree outside my window
Is bare of leaves.
The wind,
This October morning,
Worries those few remaining leaves,
Pulling them this way,
twisting them that way,
tugging at them
until, one by one,
exhausted by the ceaseless effort to hang on,
they go dancing in the wind.
As they waltz past my window,
The stubbornness has left them
And they are finally free.
What is it about living things
That we expend so much energy resisting the inevitable,
Hanging on to what is already gone,
Hoping to sustain a season
Into times that are unreasonable,
Clinging to old habits
Despite the pain and discomfort?

Why are we so afraid to dance in the wind?

Why are we so afraid to dance in the wind? It’s a good question. By clinging to things, whether that be people, possessions, seasons, situations, prestige, appearance, beliefs, disbeliefs, feelings, we fail to experience life fully. We block ourselves from experiencing the full gift of life. We become like the creatures in the story at the beginning of this "blogspot", clinging on but not fully experiencing life. They would rather die of boredom than risk letting go and trust in the current. And then one brave one lets go and they simply mock it as it crashes against the rocks and suffers the pain of freedom until it learns the dance of the current. Still they are afraid though to let go and experience the freedom themselves. They want their messiah to do it for them or they merely want to spin stories of his journey rather than seeing him as the example and letting go themselves and experiencing the freedom of the current.

It is the same with all of life, if we truly pay attention and increase our sensitivity to it. All life can teach us to be all that we can be. We can even learn from the leaves as they fall freely and dance in the wind.

Now all this brings some questions to my mind. Why do so many of us cling to things and will not let go? Why do we want to live with the illusion of control? Or on the other hand why do we want to rush through things and not experience the moment we are in? Why are we always wishing for the end of things? What are we afraid of? Why do we not want to fully experience life? And what is the antidote.

I had several conversations with people last week. Some I have known all my life and others I’ve known for only a short time. In each conversation there was a constant theme. The theme was fear. Fear I believe is at the core the two autumn themes I’ve been speaking of…to either wish days away or to cling to something that is over. These are the fears symbolic of autumn. It is fear that is at the root of the need to cling on and or control and it is fear that causes this desire to wish certain feelings away.

I’m no different myself by the way. I can want to wish certain experiences away, especially if they are uncomfortable, even painful. I noticed myself doing it the other day when I was beginning a hard slog on the cross trainer. I didn’t want to go through the pain of it, I just wanted the results that would come from doing so, but still I stuck at it. I have learnt to develop faith. I’ve also clung onto comfortable things and painful and destructive things at times in my life, for the fear of what might be if I just let go and let the wind of life take hold. It was fear that stopped me.

But what causes the fear, what causes this lack of trust. Well I think that it is lack of faith. Faith in life itself. It comes from a belief that life is hostile, against us and something that cannot be trusted. This is why we cling to things and will not let go. The antidote is faith. Faith in life itself, but this of course is a risk. It is a risk worth taking though and certainly beats the boredom of clinging to those rocks we heard about in the earlier story. We need to learn to let go and trust in the current and trust in the wind and to trust in the ever changing nature of life.

This brings to mind a lovely excerpt from Anthony Demello’s “The song of the Bird” it goes by the title “Don’t Change”

"I was neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. Then one day someone said to me, Don't change. I love you just as you are. Those words were music to my ears: Don't change, Don't change. Don't change . . . I love you as you are. I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!

Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.

Is this how you love me, God?"

Here lays both the problem and the solution. This is why I believe we cling to things or simply wish them away. This is why so many of us are afraid to fully experience the life we are experiencing right here right now. We don’t trust in life. We believe that life is untrustworthy. We fail to experience that love that is so present in life. We feel unacceptable as we are. Certainly this was my problem for so long. Thank God it is no longer the case. I do, I do, I do…every day…

And how do we learn to love life, to be a part of life? Well it begins by paying attention. By increasing our sensitivity to life. It begins perhaps by being like those falling leaves. By falling like those autumnal leaves, by not wishing away our experiences and by not clinging on…It begins by simply letting go and by learning to dance in the wind…

Let’s all learn to dance in the wind…Lets all become like falling leaves…Let’s all learn to dance the impermanence dance…



  1. I needed this right now. I'm facing a big decision that scares me... a new beginning. I've always feared change. But the time has come to let go of the old and embrace the new. It's exciting and scary in equal measure. Thank you. x

  2. Thank you Mel and I wish you well with your decisions making nd the days ahead...All will be well