How to Die Like a Tree

During a walk with a friend this week, we saw a huge, dead tree lying on the ground, all in one piece with its base exposed. It looked as if it had toppled over gently at the end of a full life. My friend said he had heard that if you eat organic food, you die simply, easily, and all in a moment, like the tree. I said, “That’s what I’m aiming for.”

Then the meaning of my words echoed in my mind, and I was surprised that they didn’t completely freak me out. I have been thinking more about this whole death thing, perhaps because my parents are getting older, perhaps because I am.

I have another friend who I’m sure is going to leave this life exactly as that tree did—peacefully. He’s in his late eighties, recently had a stroke, and quickly made a full recovery. In an email he wrote afterward he said, “Mortality is real.”

I wonder how to live with a daily awareness of this fact. I don’t mean I want to cash in my retirement fund and travel to Iceland because tomorrow could be my last day, but rather how does one move in the world in a way that holds an awareness of our own transitory nature?

It might have something to do with not holding on so hard. To whatever—the way things are, the way we want them to be, the happy things, the sad things, the terrible, the wonderful. Not because they don’t matter but because they are passing.

Perhaps living with that awareness is like Buddhist monks building a mandala. They place each grain of sand with intent, attention, presence, and love until they’ve constructed an intricate, gorgeous piece of art and worship. They never hurry. Then they sweep it all away and pour the sand into a creek to be carried to the ocean.

The reason to construct the mandala is not the mandala’s future form because, ultimately, it doesn’t have one. The reason to construct the mandala is the act of constructing it. So the way to live today, given that one day we won’t be here, is with intent, attention, presence, and love toward what is happening today.

Gee, if it’s that simple, I should have it down by noon.

2 thoughts on “How to Die Like a Tree

  1. It is that simple – just not simple to remember it and put it into practice! After 15 years of martial arts training I finally started to get a minute understanding of the beauty of the transitory, and all that really matters is how we conduct our life now. But stuff happens and I forget. I find that, the more often I can remind myself the longer the moments last, and the sooner I can catch myself if I start to get hung up on something. We are taught that so many things matter (status or reputation, how we think others think of us) that it’s hard to let go, and I find myself getting caught up in worries or frustrations about things sometimes for months (or longer). What finally gets me out of them is expanding my view, both within the given time and by looking out in time, deciding what action (if any) to take, and adjusting my attitude accordingly. Ah – isn’t the journey fun!

  2. It’s 11:02 now! Yes, yes, yes and yes. I gave away another piece yesterday. Don’t know how long it will last, but it sure felt good – expansive and clearing. Thank you, Rachel.

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