The Tree of Wisdom
So many authors I read these days write from a young person’s perspective. I am always pleasantly impressed and enthralled to read so many of these young authors, who seem so wise, yet their wisdom still swirls with a youthful energy. Perhaps young people grow up faster now, with access to the world's knowledge on square devices in their pockets. I don't know, but when I was in my twenties, I was mostly obsessed with school, partying, and making rent. Perhaps there were wise, philosophical young writers in my day as well, but I certainly wasn't one of them.
But now, only a few decades later, I know a little something of wisdom from an older man's perspective. And perhaps there is something worth sharing in my words, or maybe they are written down only for me to read at some future point.
Here is a perspective that applies an older wisdom that no longer has much of that youthful energy: Things in one's life fall away, like the leaves on a tree. And we must learn how to respond to this falling away. We must find a way to go on in the face of inevitable loss and find joy and fulfillment.
There is wisdom in learning, and accepting, that the path to......whatever.......often lies not in what one adds, but in what one subtracts or loses. Like writing, our lives eventually should be stripped of superfluous adverbs. Take away unneeded adjectives. Unnecessary distractions are reduced. Sometimes one removes these things consciously, like an editor crossing out unneeded words. Other times, life (somewhat cruelly I might add) intervenes and removes entire chapters that we would rather have kept.
Whether by choice or by force, one by one, things in our life fall away. First a leaf falls to the ground and blows away. Then another. And then, yet another. We lose loved ones, we lose touch with friends, we lose pets. Sometimes we simply lose interest in things that once excited us. As these things fall away, we start to more fully notice what remains. And what remains is small, simple and essential. Sometimes it is unvarnished truth, for truth cannot, by definition, fall away. And what we discover is that the simple things become important. Or, more correctly, we realize that the simple things were always important, we just didn't notice quite so vividly when our branches were full of leaves. If we are wise, we also learn, as the first leaves begin to fall, that no leaf remains forever, and that our temporary time with remaining leaves is precious. Priceless.
We learn to notice simple things like the wind in our hair. Or the warmth of the sun on our skin. Or evenings with friends, which we appreciate even more when we realize how few there actually will be. And, as we grow older and older, we eventually end up like a barren tree stripped down to its core essence - with no insects, and only a precious few birds or leaves left on our branches. We cling to this essence that makes up who we actually are. So, the wise learn to be uncover and embrace this core essence. To find that brings which them joy. The core essence is often why we are here here, among the living, and the wise cultivate it and learn to be comfortable with their deepest self. Our main job is to become fully ourselves and, after so much substracting, we uncover the activities and thoughts that fulfill us. This is why, I suspect, so many return, later in life, to the pursuits they loved as children — art, writing, music, imagination, creativity, sports, cooking, etc. We uncover the forms of expression that are uniquely us. For the wise (I think), this is an aspect of our inner lives growing to be as fulfilling as our outer lives once were.
Perhaps this is as good an analogy as any for the life of a human - a tree. We start our lives by growing up and out, trying different things, forming our branches, and then we attract other things, other beings, other people, into our lives. Leaves are the fruits of our pursuits, birds are others who come to rest with us for a while, to live with us, but ultimately they fly away. If we are lucky, new birds come visit. And then slowly, very slowly, it all falls away bit by bit, until all that is left is that core, unchangeable, essence of yourself, and the simple things that remaining essence can experience fully. And if in that we can find gratitude and joy, perhaps we have found a bit of wisdom to keep.