We live in a cedar and maple forest. I begin most mornings practicing taiji and qigong out on our deck. Because it’s ten feet off the ground, I feel like I’m moving through the lower tier of the forest that towers overhead.
It’s magical. Not surprisingly, if I allow the rush and roar of everyday life to keep me from this morning interlude for any stretch of time, I find my irritability rising, my resiliency shrinking, and my joy flattening into something like indifference.
This time of year is particularly beautiful and poignant in the forest. The deciduous trees have gone through their color changes and have lost much of their foliage. Even the cedars have sloughed off small branches, fern-like frond tips and seed cones in the rain and wind. The leaves and fronds that just weeks ago were soaring a hundred feet above us now blanket the forest floor with another year’s gift of abundant decay.
Yesterday, as I moved through the taiji forms, I saw a big leaf maple surrender to gravity one of its last gold leaves. It didn’t plummet or wobble; there was no fluttering or indecisive meandering. It glided down in a slow curving arc until it came to rest next to the stump of a cedar long-since fallen.
The descent was over in a few seconds, but the simple beauty of that final journey from treetop to forest floor lingers with me still.
What allowed that leaf to glide into its afterlife with such grace? Perhaps it released from its mothering branch just as a perfectly attuned breeze caught and held it afloat on its unwavering flight. Maybe it held the exact number of raindrops that created just the right ballast to ensure a smooth path down to the welcoming earth. Maybe.
But I like to think there was something more at play here; something in that leaf and that tree and that moment. I felt the presence of consciousness and of conscious choice. Maybe it was just a falling leaf. But for me, it was a reminder.
So often we struggle and strain to see, to hear, to understand, to succeed. And mixed with all that effort is so much fear of missing out, of being found out, of losing out that when we stumble we see it as a fall from grace.
But the maple leaf was a reminder to me that even in the smallest, most humble acts, even in something as simple as surrendering to gravity…or as consequential as letting go of everything we’ve ever known…we can fall with grace.
It’s in the how.
It reminds me of one of the poems from tajiquan:
The manner of your giving
tells more than the price of your gift.
What good is a jewel, refused?
Grace, it turns out, is multidirectional. We can find it everywhere. Even here.