Categories help us to delineate, which in turn helps us to think rationally and communicate clearly. They enable us to collectively make sense of our world. The clarity of the rational mind can be limiting, however. Merely talking of “our world” gives us a sense of separation between the self, what I perceive as “me”, and everything else. Staring at a tree can challenge this notion of separation.
I’ve been thinking a lot today about connectedness, which could be part of the reason I found myself staring at a tree in the first place. The experience has me realizing that a sense of self versus the other is not really a thing.
Consider our physical composition. It is said that we are made up of the material of the stars — literally. Dying stars are where the elements originate. These elements form the organic chemistry of life, the minerals that make up the earth, the minerals that power the electrical currents of our bodies. The earth beneath our feet, the tree I’ve been staring at, my yapping Chihuahua…we are all composed of matter from the same source. In addition, some molecules now present in my body came, not long ago, from the basil plant on my porch.
Leaving the realm of material science, another challenge to the sense of self versus other comes from the tradition of Buddhism. I encountered an exercise, a meditation, that consists of trying to “watch the watcher”. The idea is to sit silently while attempting to observe who is behind the eyes? Can you find this observer? As you search, you realize that this is not possible. When you look for the watcher, there is no one there.
With this in mind, as I stare at the tree, I find that there arises a feeling of closeness. It is almost like zooming in until my sense of self and the essence of the tree merge. There is a sense of communion between beings, something beyond but also inclusive of our material selves. It might sound a bit like I’ve crossed over into crazy town, but I encourage you to take a moment this week to let yourself go. Try to observe the observer and realize there is no one there. Stare at a tree and experience that we are all one. Feel the ground beneath your feet, looking up at the night sky and feel the past, the present, the future of all life.