A Season of Beauty

This is the time of year when many of us who live in this part of Indiana will drive to Brown County to view the autumn colors.  Visiting Brown County Park and stopping at the overlooks never gets old for my wife and me.  To look out over miles and miles of trees in their fall plumage is as close as one can get to stepping into a T.C. Steele painting.

The overlooks in the park offer a wide-angle view of the county’s signature hardwood forest.  There is another way to enjoy the beauty of Brown County, however, and that is to focus on just one tree.  The traditional adage is that we can’t see the forest for the trees, but the opposite is also true.  We often can’t see the trees for the forest. 

To look at a single tree is to become aware of many things.  There is the seed that the tree sprang from.  There is the ancestry of that tree.  There are the nutrients in the soil that have fed the tree.  There is the vital role that water and sunlight have played in the tree’s growth.  

That one tree has its own story to tell of storms, droughts, high winds, and animal occupants.  The story of that one tree is as different from other trees as your story is different from the story of every other human being who has ever lived.  As the solitary tree can get lost to view by the forest surrounding it, so the story of every person we pass can be swallowed by the crowd. 

It is a spiritual discipline to pay attention to what is seemingly small and easily overlooked.  Jesus suggested that we see the world more as God does when we consider the flower, the bird, and even the hairs on a person’s head.  Not surprisingly, Jesus linked that level of paying attention to seeing more like a child.

Zen Buddhism also trains the mind to see, really see, by observing a heron standing still in a pond, a goldfish swimming lazily, or the twists and turns of a tree’s branches.  Buddhism would describe this kind of seeing as having beginner’s mind.  Beginner’s mind and the childlike mind—same thing.

There is no need to dwell on what makes paying attention to the small and easily overlooked so difficult for adults.  We all recognize that our minds are often in a hurry.  We scan one thing quickly in order to scan something else.  Despite the fact that we might spend hours scrolling through what appears on our phone screens, we might say that we don’t have the time to stop and really take in the butterfly, the one flower, or the rays of the sun as they break through the clouds.

But no matter how old we are, it isn’t too late to become again a child with beginner’s mind.  Perhaps this autumn season, we could let one tree or even one leaf open our eyes to a world of beauty.