When I walk in the woods on the ridge above Oakland, Kwan Yin is always there. She shines in the sunlight slanting down among the Sequoias; she’s present in the muddy puddles marked by dog feet and bike tires and the waffled soles of hiking boots; she’s everywhere in the silence when I stand still to breathe. And sometimes she stops me cold with the kind of lesson that can only come from the natural environment.
Today as I walked I came upon a downed tree, smack across the trail in front of me. Steep precipice down on the left, steep hill up on my right: no way around. I stood contemplating the obstacle. Although a few dusty leaves still dangled, the tree was clearly dead, its bark grayish and marked with fluorescent green mold, its upended roots crumbling.
Some limbs had broken off in the fall, showing jagged inner bark; others poked out to touch the ground. Bugs had set up residence in the grooves of the bark. If left to itself here across the trail, the tree would gradually surrender to insects, weather and time, until it fell apart in dry hollow chunks. It would be received by the ground beneath it, in which its sustenance would lie awaiting the next seeds or animals or marauding weeds and grass.
Standing looking at the ruined tree, I found it beautiful, its fate profoundly moving and somehow joyful, and I knew that Kwan Yin had prepared this sight for me.
I had been worrying about my own aging—foreseeing disease, disability and finally the inevitable blinking out of the light. But here across the trail before me I saw the whole cycle of life, and how the disintegration of one being benefits the awakening and integration of others. Kwan Yin held me still and invited me to look, breathe, realize that I too will fall and crumble and come apart, fulfilling my destiny. I may be beautiful or not as I sink back into the universe that brought me forward.
When I could stand there no longer, I climbed and picked my way over the trunk among the jumbled branches, feeling the rough bark under my hands and knees, until I broke through into the open trail. Kwan Yin’s warm breath touched my face, as if she whispered to me. Thank you, I answered, and my stride was loose and lively with the sense of the rightness of it all.
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