she walks in beauty

she walks in beauty
this was in Seattle’s Japanese garden last year, but the colors are comparable

Autumn has arrived in, and nearly departed from, the Twin Cities. We were out of state for the kickoff and I was afraid we’d missed the best of it, but as with most fears, this one was unfounded. It’s been a particularly weird fall: 80 degrees on a Tuesday, highs in the 20s the following Monday, record high today, 6 days later, and finally retreating to normal temps tomorrow. Everyone was out cleaning gutters and raking leaves in the gorgeous, sunny, 70 degree Saturday, which I find kinda sweet, in the same way that I feel connected to all the folks shoveling as V and I walk past the morning after a snowstorm. There is something about living in a place with real seasons that creates a landscape for community in a way that living in LA did not. Of course, the relational fertility of this climatological setting is marred by the repressed nature of the culture, so it may be a wash.

I haven’t done any formal, deliberate leaf-peeping this year (anyone else find that term creepy?), but my meditation-ripened mind has been just overwhelmed by the beauty of the trees I encounter in my everyday travels around the neighborhood. On the first snowy morning (yes, we had that too in these wacky few weeks) we walked under the stunning red maple across the street and I could hardly stand it – the ruby leaves dappled with and descending into white snow was almost too beautiful to bear. Again yesterday, walking under a waterfall of apple and orange colored leaves as the wind dragged them off the branches, I had to stop and, weirdly, close my eyes. I felt like I was in some kind of fantastical landscape, some sci-fi world in which photosynthesis produces a vast array of colors and this evanescent beauty is the norm. How long would I live there before I failed to appreciate it?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter where you are. There is always beauty to be found (though I know in some places you have to have exceptional vision), and humans can become accustomed to anything. Take the weather in Los Angeles, the mountains, the ocean. Yes, people who live there will say it’s perfect, say it’s beautiful, but in my experience Angelenos are just as susceptible to taking that beauty for granted as folks are anywhere else. It often takes a change, a newness, an outsider to really get it, to see what is performing right before our eyes.

It’s the watcher, right? The observer. Emerson’s transparent eyeball. Buddhism’s witness. It fills that crucial role of observing without judgement, but there is also the secondary purpose of experiencing with minimal baggage, of seeing with fresh eyes, of childlike love and appreciation. When people ask me what I’ve gotten out of meditation I have a lot of guesses, but the benefit I am most sure of is the exponential increase in moments of spontaneous joy and gratitude. Not because I’ve worked on it or talked myself into it, but because meditation has simply allowed it the space to enter in.