It is May Day, but spring has been late to this part of the planet. The daffodils are just starting to bloom, but their trumpeting seems tentative, not blasting like some springs, and the tulips aren’t yet brave enough to stretch their necks up. Leaves are a long way from gracing the trees: it has been six long months since the world was green. But the snow is finally gone and it’s warm enough for morning walks.
This reawakening of nature has nudged my spiritual side awake. My somewhat regular meditation practice, which I took up last fall (I have over the years meditated only sporadically but fruitfully), was disrupted by my pre-chemo illness at the start of winter. Then my medications (very stimulating steroids) made it too difficult for me to be still for my evening’s hour of meditation in the bath (the most comfortable place for me physically). I’ve since lowered my dosage, but now my piccline (an IV catheter in my arm that stays in long term) means no baths.
I’ve missed being in that meditative space, so it’s time to find another way in to a regular practice. I’m doing my best now to devote an hour of the day to spiritual pursuits (I like early morning, though that’s also my best writing time). I don’t want to call it meditation, since some of this time might be contemplative reading, or a nature walk, or even journal writing. I don’t think it matters, as long as my focus is on connecting to my spiritual place in the universe. I especially like walking meditation, which is most wonderful in the woods when I can get to them.
When I sat in a brief meditation one day last week with Roy, the image of the tree came to me. I thought about the mirrored structure of the root system below ground and the branches above. The roots draw nourishment from past life, from dead organisms that have decomposed into fertile soil. The leaves on the branches gather energy from the sun, the light of the present moment. The tree then expresses itself by flowering and producing the fruit and seeds of the future.
As humans, we do this too. We are rooted in the past, formed by all that has gone before us—death, in other words. But we are also taking in everything from the present. And these two sources, past and present, or death and life, inform the expression of our selves and our creative spirit; the two together produce the gifts we offer the universe in turn—our own flowering of self and the fruits of our being.
So it is essential that I look to the past and understand what has come before me, as well as cultivate my relationship with death itself. Heidegger (my philosopher friend Susan Judith has introduced me to his ideas about death) would agree with this: he believed that only those who truly grasped mortality could be authentic and fully human. But it is also essential that I engage with the present moment, as the leaves with sunlight. These two dimensions are what help me to develop as a person as well as to express myself, offering my gifts to those who survive me, to the future. These pursuits will continue as long as I am alive, to the very moment of death itself.