I wrote this poem as a grad student while living in that highly interior world of academia. I’d been feeling out of balance and needing to reconnect to the world around me. Then I saw a leaf tremble in a light breeze “and saw more life in it than in me.”
I wanted that. That ability to be spontaneously receptive and responsive to the world around me. To tremble deliciously in the breeze’s embrace.
Tremble of a Leaf
The tremble of a leaf awoke me.
So far inside I had gone,
Where id and ego threw
Long shadows across my mirrored face
To mystify me.
Where I dug odd relics
From a befuddled past,
Gazing long to find some answer
That escaped me.
Where men were but some
dark puzzle, pieces
I never bothered to make whole—
Where Nature herself
Roused no awe in me,
Needing only to be computed
So far inside I had gone
That when the wind passed over me
I moved not—
Only to see a leaf tremble,
And see more life in it
Than in me.
We are constantly navigating between the interior and exterior world, but sometimes one gets privileged over the other and we feel off-balanced. This happens in the world of academia with its classrooms and labs and libraries and constant reading and writing and talking. It also happens to us as writers, bloggers, gamers—this plugged in generation, with all the texting and tweeting, the TV viewing, internet surfing.
So often I see people, young and old, walking down the street wearing ear buds, listening to music instead of the wind blowing through the birches, talking to someone on a cell phone, rather than connecting with the children playing on the lawns they pass.
Sometimes we try to get out of our heads and into our bodies through sports or working out, yoga and dance, digging in the garden, taking hikes. Travel helps too, because it takes us into the unfamiliar and makes the exterior exotic, interesting in a way it has ceased to be at home.
But even then, if our heads are filled with constant chattering—thinking, worrying, weighing, measuring, planning, remembering, anticipating—we’re still in our heads, the interior dialogue is drowning out the exterior, acting as a filter to keep us from being as spontaneously responsive to the world around us as we could be.
That’s why I like to practice “no-mind,” having no thought, as I move through my day. Turning out the interior chatter allows me to experience the exterior world with no filters, nothing coming between me and it. Pure experience. It’s like when we try relaxing, concentrating on releasing the tension in each part of our body until we finally go limp. Emptying the mind is like that. The body is still there, the mind is still there, we are still there, but we experience a sense of clarity and peace that seems egoless, bodiless. A surrendering to “what-is,” not unlike surrendering to the water when floating on our backs, letting ourselves melt into its flexible support. Body, water, one thing.
Ironically, the letting go of the interior chatter, letting go of the filters that divide us into I and Other, this and that, here and there, this pure unfiltered experience of the exterior, enables us to realize that “in reality” there is no interior and exterior. It’ all one thing, one be-ing, not an “it” but a continuum and a spaciousness, a wall-less sense of self that includes everything around us. Interior and exterior merge into a single co-existence. Like moonlight on water. Interior and exterior reflecting each other.
This sense of oneness never lasts very long, alas. Like floating on your back or going limp, an orgasm or the scent of orange blossoms. It’s all fleeting. But it’s nice to know we’re not fleeting. We’re the flow. And all these fleeting things flow with us. Not two.
The tremble of a leaf woke me to the need to be responsive to the world around me, to experience it unfiltered by thought. But it’s nice to know that no matter how far inside we go, how interior we become, the exterior is only a touch, a glance, away. A mere turn of the head, a pause between thoughts that widens, a stillness that cuts through the clutter of our minds, and we feel that breeze, and tremble in its embrace.
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