Between snowflakes and leaves there are resemblances. At the sight of snow falling one thinks that one is seeing small flowers that are falling from the sky… Birds’ feathers, leaves on a tree, the delicate, feathery, fingery snowfall in winter–one rightly tells oneself that they are related… Does the leaf know how beautiful it is? Do the snowflakes smile and do flowers charm themselves, and do curls know their curliness? …The shapes of waves and branches are snaky, and times do come when one knows that one is no more and no less than waves and snowflakes, or, as it certainly longs now and then for release from its uncommonly graceful confines, the leaf.
Robert Walser, Prose Piece, possibly January 1929,
translated by Christopher Middleton, quoted here from
A Little Ramble: In the Spirit of Robert Walser,
inspired by a series of exhibitions
at the Donald Young Gallery
We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.
Robert Walser, ibid, 1914
Much attention today is devoted to the idea of mindfulness. Amazon.com lists ‘over 80,000 results’ for the word. The practice itself, once known only to those at the periphery of psychological/spiritual work, has become mainstream, with scientific studies by the score to show its effectiveness in the relief of stress and the fostering of emotional and physical health.
Psychology Today has defined mindfulness as ‘a state of active, open attention on the present.’ This sounds simple enough. Putting our attention on, being attentive to, the present moment, and by doing so, changing our experience of life.
If it’s so simple, why can it feel so challenging?
Much of it has to do with habit. We have the habit of shutting down to the world around us, as well as to our world within. Why? Because it can be so uncomfortable. In our industrialized world it may feel at times that the only way to find peace at all is to shut out the barrage of crowds and noise and traffic, advertising vying for our attention; and if we can’t shut it out, then to deaden ourselves to it all–with food, drink, gossip, sex, social media, obsessive thinking, excessive working-out or any of the hundred other things that can keep our mind occupied and our feelings at bay; and when we have lived this way for years, spending hour after hour and day after day avoiding the way it feels to be alive and present, not only have we forgotten how to do it, but even the very idea of getting present can feel overwhelming.
So we end up in our thinking. We end up relating to our thoughts about the world, rather than to the world itself; relating to our thoughts about each other, rather than being in relationship with each other. And with our thoughts, there is no reciprocation. I give energy to my thinking, but my thinking gives nothing in return but more thinking. I end up feeling depleted. I end up with even less energy to bring to my life, which in turn keeps me even less related to you and to the world, and then more related to my thinking, and on and on, falling further each day away from my world, and wondering why I feels so empty.
If however I open myself to the world, to nature, nature responds in kind. Nature is alive and waiting for me to notice it; and when I do notice it, it reciprocates. It gives me attention in return. Life flows between the world outside and the world within, uplifting both, which in turn increases the flow of life between us, etc. And nature does not exist only in the quiet forests and deserts and farmlands. Nature is everywhere life is–crossing 5th Avenue, ordering a sandwich at the deli, stuck on the 101 Freeway–and life is everywhere I am. And everywhere you are.
Another word for nature is Consciousness. The Veda says that the world and everything in it is Consciousness Itself; and that Consciousness wants nothing more than to know itself and love itself fully. I am this Consciousness, as are you, as is everything. It is our nature to live out this prime directive of Consciousness, this giving of ourselves to the world and to each other. Some people, like the visionary Robert Walser, quoted above, are born perhaps without the same filters we have, and so cannot help but be present to the world, rather than to his thoughts about the world; and so he finds himself joyfully living fully in this reciprocal universe.
We can make the choice to be present ourselves. We can begin now, in this moment. And one day we, too, may be able to say:
“and times do come when one knows that one is no more and no less than waves and snowflakes…”
Today I will choose to be present to my world. I will use my cell phone for good, rather than as a way to avoid. I will set a reminder for each hour reminding me to come to my senses, to take in my surroundings, to feel the flow of life within me, through me, around me, the flow of life from me to you.