The Apple Tree

It’s strange to watch a tree die.  It happens slow, over the course of years.  You have to be in the same place, geographically speaking, for a long time to really see it.  One year, apples are everywhere, a green tent dangling golden-pink orbs, bird nests, a trunk ringed with grass that the mower couldn’t reach.  And the next year the same.  And the next.  Bite after bite of tangy sweetness and the trickle of fresh juice running into an empty milk carton.  A seasonal rhythm of green, yellow, pink, worm, cut, gather, crunch, crush, drink.  Tradition develops, who knows when it started, but the apple tree exists and is watched, enjoyed, used.  Laughter surrounds the tree as it’s shaken and climbed and unknowingly loved.

And one summer, somewhere down the line, many stories and maybe a degree or a divorce later, a dead branch requires pruning.  Was that there last year?  The branch is sawed, rusting teeth ripping shriveled, leafless wood.  But the tree remains, the tree that’s always been there–the apple tree–it’s nearly the center piece of the yard.  There’s still apples, of course.  But the naked yellow hole stares out of the trunk like a lifeless eye, the tree’s symmetry disturbed, like an amputee.  But eventually, the empty arm-socket loses its starkness, returns to the color of trunk, and the tree is again normal.

And the new normal goes on.  Some more welcome summers of wandering through the yard, a much needed respite from the demands of Pepsi-beer lunch hours and overdue time cards and gas prices.  The apple tree is noticed from a distance, maybe from the window in the midst of a microwave burrito.  Fruit ripens anonymously, and then over-ripens, and falls unclaimed to the matted grass below.  More dead branches; hags’ hands flailing from a gnarled trunk against a beige backdrop of an unseen sunset.  A television rattles in the background, an apple juice commercial.

One weekend, the last hours of a busy Sunday, the maroon fangs of a dull saw again come to feast upon the six blackened limbs.  Music hums in the background, earpieces squeezed tight.  Were there apples this year?  It’s a fast job, a quick thought, onto the next task, and then the next.  The checklist reverberates and tugs.  What’s next?  The branches burn in an untended fire, a garbage fire.  Weeds dot the grass, and come nightfall, the apple tree slides into the darkness, not even the glow from a nearby window to cast light upon the remaining branches, haggered and sparsely lined hands carrying the last sickly-yellow embers of a forgotten fire.

And then, some years later, the question arises.  A child.  “What kind of tree is this?”  A gentle correction, early grammar lessons.  “Do you mean what kind of tree was that?”  The apple tree is dead.  A grey husk, weathered, standing through sheer stubbornness, leafless and barren, an apple tree.  The apple tree.

“Was it pretty?”
“It was beautiful.”
“Can we plant one?”
“Of course”
“How?”
“We’ll find some seeds.”
The two turn to leave, to go home, to return to their manicured yard and garden, to their well-lit home.  The man stops.  Perhaps, maybe, possibly there are seeds, from the tree, somewhere.  The two drop to their knees and peer through the knee length grass, searching.  And as they crawl, feeling for the kernels of new life, the man sees the tree again, the apple tree, from the corner of his eye in the center of his imagination, lush and full, green, rustling in a breeze.  His fingers seize upon a seed, somehow a survivor.
“Got one.”  He says.
“Let’s go home and plant it.”
“Yes, let’s go home and plant it.”

The root of all desire

It lies in the nature of Grand Virtue
To follow Tao and Tao alone.
Now what is the Tao?
It is Something elusive and evasive.
Evasive and elusive!
And yet It contains within Itself a Form.
Elusive and evasive!
And yet It contains within itself a Substance.
Shadowy and dim!
And yet It contains within itself a core of vitality.
The Core of Vitality is very real.
It contains within Itself an unfailing Sincerity.
Throughout the ages Its Name has been preserved
In order to recall the Beginning of all things.
How do I know the ways of all things at the Beginning?
By what is within me.

–Tao te Ching

The last two lines of that verse is the crux of the matter.  When I recognize a truth in myself, a truth that comes from our God-given ability to simply know, I also recognize that it is universal.  That truth is true for every being in existence, regardless of whether or not they have recognized it.  Truth IS.  It is up to us to acknowledge or flee from it.  But either way, Truth is the unbudging, ever-flowing common denominator that we can never escape.  I touched that place this morning and realized something, perhaps for the first time.

I just realized the only thing I want, and ever have wanted, and ever will want, is love.  It’s the only reason for getting out of bed, for going through the layered bullshit cake of everyday routine, for dealing with taxes and traffic.  Sometimes this desire comes disguised as potato chips or sugar or distraction, but it’s all an attempt to find an adequate substitute for the love my mind does not yet feel it deserves.

The pain of alienation–from love, and therefore from self and others–is the baseline of the modern condition.  Culture has taught us all that we have to be something special, or own something magnificent, before we are worthy of allowing ourselves to enjoy life, to relax, to be “okay.”  We wander through our days suspicious of one another, seeing a world painted by the ugly, fearful brush of corporate media and warped religion.  We defend our hearts with cold logic and wonder why life is so often stale.  We reject the parts of ourselves we don’t like and project them onto others.  We fear the very vulnerability that we crave, that would set us free, that would give us everything we ever wanted.

Fear keeps us in shackles, keeps us not trusting our fellow humans, leaves us lost in the wasteland of shitty ideas that is our cultural inheritance.  Fear of what?  FEAR OF WHAT?  What are we so fucking scared of?  What is so fucking scary that we must sacrifice the only possible meaning of life and lock up our hearts in the dungeon of expectation?  Fear of embarrassment, of failure, of death?  Things that are already promised, more certain than tomorrow’s sunrise.

These fears are lies.  They represent the disastrous misperceptions of the human mind, our hubristic quest to know and therefore to die in the midst of life.  Knowing is death.  Certainty is death.

I AM life.  Not my story about life.  And life loves itself.  Unconditionally.  It doesn’t need a six-figure salary first.  The only thing life knows is endless, boundless, pervasive love for all of existence.  And that love is here right now, in the midst of my brain’s bullshit, offering itself in every moment, inviting me to drop the broken plot line of “should” and “need” and faster faster faster.  It’s RIGHT HERE.

And yet, I’ve only touched this place, this love-that-I-am, a few times in my life.  But those few times were enough.  I know it exists.  I know a better way of being is possible, an open-hearted life of trust and vulnerability and beauty and sharing my depths and allowing others to do the same.

And this is what the mind is always seeking, because deep down, we all know of this place and we all want, more than anything else, to fall into it forever.  We desperately crave intimacy with this love field, but we don’t know how to get there.  So we chase substitutes, the fill-ins that culture tells us will make us complete.  New gadgets, new relationships, jobs, cars, food, food, FOOD, beer, salt, sugar, sex.  Up and down, high, low, HIGH low low low. It’s all symbols.  Attempts to create the perfection we are insatiably drawn toward, the perfection that already exists more perfectly than anything we’ll ever dream up.

And although I’ve read this in book after book, I only just recognized the truth of it this morning.  The game must end.  The seeking must end.  The pretending-to-not-be-what-I’m-looking-for has to stop.  No-thing will give me what I seek.  No life situation will be an acceptable substitute for finally allowing myself to give up on the confused dreams of mind.  I don’t have to earn love.  I don’t have to DO anything at all.

The task of clearing the debris began years ago, but it’s time to take the job seriously.  It’s time to plunge fearlessly into the illusions of inadequacy that have tricked me into believing I have to do something and be someone special before I am worthy of love, and love them into non-existence.

And the only bulldozer fit to clear away the smoldering rubble of lies that keeps us feeling inadequate and unworthy of love is Truth.  Truth in every moment.  The Truth of acknowledging our own frailty, our own fear, our own weakness, and the Truth that none of those things define us.  The Truth that really, deep down, love is all we want, and more importantly, all we really need.

Here, George Harrison said it better: