We have two elderberry trees in the garden outside my study, framing the window on each side with a swathe of green leaves and in their season, magnificent white blooms setting their berry fruit as they in turn expire. These leaves have lately given me a pleasant point of focus during my meditations and I have shared this view with you in the image above. As I sat meditating on the elderberry leaves one day last week a movement to my right caught my attention. It was a yellowish-brown dying leaf, devoid of the lush greenness of its companions, letting go of the branch from which it had grown and its last fleeting movement was what had caught my eye as it ever so gently floated to the ground, its life experience over, unattended and unnoticed by anyone other than myself. The ground would be its final resting place as it would slowly rot away with its essence to be taken up by the roots of the host tree, nourishment being returned as the leaf’s final contribution.
It was just that, a simple everyday act of a single leaf leaving life and while tinged with sadness for the leaf, there was a flashing light of realisation for me that each of our own deaths is no more consequential than that, a leaf falling from the tree, its grasp on life broken, to join the vastness of mother earth to feed other lives eventually in some small way. No sadder, no more painful than that, one breath out and not another taken, an instant between the two extremes, life and death. There was also a personal liberation in the thought that our life doesn’t have to mean anything more than a single leaf on a tree. It doesn’t matter how hard you strive, or how much money you make, whatever successes or failures you may have, you are but a single leaf on a tree whose existence is temporary, the term unknown. You may provide shade for others to grow under, you may provide sustenance and inspiration to others but any other meaning than to be just alive is pointless.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
Live life to the fullest because your fate is certain, you will eventually drop from the tree. Fall off the tree of life. As simple as that. Our own passing may or may not be temporarily mourned but the tree of life will go on with barely a nod to our passing or even to our past existence. There may remain a little “knob of vegetation” where we once attached to the tree but that may be the most vestige that remains and that will eventually be consumed and overgrown by the bark of the tree. The leaf I had noticed had fitted in to its place in the cycle of life and that was just its moment to play its final role as it gently wafted to the ground. Gentle is the right word for it, and gentle will be the moment in passing from one breath to stillness. Let go of any dread of that moment, certain that it will be the right thing at the right time. Just like a leaf falling from a tree.
O Death, where is thy sting?