Start with a tree. Any tree – that tree in front of your house, or the one you pass each day you go to work, or the thorny shrub that stands in for a tree if you live in the desert. Pick one, and conjure it up in your mind.
Notice how, as you turn the tree around in your mind, it is a web of relationships and a backdrop of memories. It has roles and functions, this conjured thing. Does it not provide serenity, prettiness, air, and shade? It is a wonderful thing, frequently overlooked and wonderfully made.
It is also a fiction, still a conjured thing, even if it stirs you to love and happiness. You can, today, go and visit the tree, and you will find that the tree in experience is infinitely more beautiful and inspiring than “the tree” you conjured in your mind a moment ago. For the tree in actuality is a living presence that one can sit companionably with, a being with which one can commune. The tree in actuality is an avatar for the infinite and a manifestation of grace, but it is very different to perceive that than to simply imagine it.
This is the way of the shadowland. We wander through two worlds, one of perception and another of the mind. In mindfulness and meditation we become aware of this duality, and we notice that the shadowland is infinitely less than the doorway through which we can peek in the current moment. Nearly all of our fear, pain, running-away, and clinging are rooted only in the shadowland, that place of imagination and conjuration by the human mind. The material world is the distorted reflection of the divine, warped by our limited senses, and the shadowland is a distorted reflection of the material world, warped by our beliefs and mis-identifications.
Names and labels are useful tools, but it is all too easy to become tragic by confusing the name with the being. Even in considering “the boulder” is communion and connection lost. For the boulder in experience is a companion too, and an avatar – regardless of its composition, weight, height, and width. Names and labels are the ways in which we plan and strategize on imaginary maps, but they can never even point at the truth of life.
Today, let us rediscover our food, and discard our thoughts of calories and healthiness. Let us recover the vivid redness of the apple and the sweet crunch as we bite into it – without trying to freeze it into mental permanence, allowing ourselves to be the experience.
Today, let us rediscover our relationships, and discard our notions “my pet”, “my friend”, and “my spouse.” Let us endeavor to go out and meet these wondrous avatars of the infinite as if for the first time, and rediscover the love and magic of their actual presences.
Above all, let us rediscover the Beloved. It is all too easy to begin to worship the names and labels we give to the divine… to honor the name “Jesus” or “Buddha” without any recognition of these beings who sit so companionably with us here and now. Many worship a god they conjure instead of the God who makes them each moment.
Sitting with the Beloved, you find Him in the tree and the tree in Him. The apple is in Him, and He in the apple. He is in your spouse, and your spouse in Him. And you – oh, especially you, dear heart – you are in the Beloved, and the Beloved is in you.