Reflections on a Rainy Sunday
One of my favorite things to do in spring is to go out early on Sunday mornings to watch birds, then come to the Shambhala Center to practice, and then stop at my favorite café to read the paper or write a letter. Though I generally don’t think of rain as a problem, birding really is made more difficult by having your eyes fill up with water as you tilt your head back to peer up into a tree top. So after a quick assessment of this morning’s steady downpour, I decided to abbreviate my usual spring ritual and go straight to the Center.
Stepping into our beautiful new shrine room and seeing sangha friends always lifts my spirits. This morning I felt even more uplifted by the magnificent Ikebana arrangement that drew my eyes as soon as I entered the room. The combination of a twig of small, creamy-white flowers and a large, outrageously purple rhododendron flower was a pure work of art. I noted my botanist’s desire to identify the small white flowers (“Thinking! No need to go into it right now!”) and began my meditation session with an impromptu gratitude fest for these riches.
The beauty of that arrangement stayed with me all day. I particularly appreciated its local element — Jean (today’s Ikebana meister) must have picked a twig from a fruit tree nearby rather than buying something that would have been transported here from far away. This in turn led me to think of my other favorite thing to do on a spring day – to walk in the woods and look for the flowers on trees. I had always known that fruit trees have flowers, but the fact that big trees like maples and hickories produce flowers, too, had somehow escaped me as a city kid.
Botanically speaking, the particular flower that opened my eyes to this annual flower-show-in-the-woods turned out not to be a flower at all — but it might as well count as an honorary one, with its pastel tones of orange and cream and its petals elegantly curved back, reminiscent of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. It belonged to an enormous shagbark hickory, and the supposed flower was actually made up of the bud scales that unfurl with the hickory’s new leaves. Flower or bud — from that day on, I looked much more closely at both on my walks in the woods and around the neighborhood.
Getting to know the trees and birds around us is a particularly fun way of relating to our environment. And the skills needed to do it are exactly what we train our minds to do on the cushion – observation, inquisitiveness, mindfulness, and awareness. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote by Hermann Hesse:
He who has learned to listen to trees
No longer desires to be a tree.
He desires to be nothing other than what he is.