Let us accept death as we do gently falling leaves
It was a deeply still autumn morning, gorgeous in the pre-dawn light. A shriveled, brown leaf floated lightly to the ground, landing haphazardly beneath the tree where many others already lay undisturbed. The tree was completely bare—except for another lone, shriveled, brown leaf hanging on, gently twirling and twisting in an imperceptible breeze.
IT IS NATURAL IN autumn to see a leaf drop. When it is time for a leaf to hang on, it is green, making food, eating, breathing, feeding the tree. When the time approaches for the leaf to drop, it stops making food from sunlight and giving oxygen to the air. The green fades, exposing the leaf’s true self in a swan song of brilliant color. It dries up, the attachment loosens and the leaf drops.
Like each leaf, each of us has our own time to die. The physical body stops nourishing itself with food, water, and oxygen. The mind and emotions lose momentum, and pull inward into a field of dreams. And the self’s true spirit begins to be revealed in all its beauty as heaviness from the past and fears for the future fade away.
The leaf’s attachment has changes to make before releasing and so do we. Like the leaf, the dying one and those attached to that person eventually make changes that allow release. “Loosening” occurs physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, including acceptance of the changes, imagining life without the other(s), feeling settled or done in relationships (words of love spoken, forgiveness felt and/or expressed), experiencing withdrawal/separation, transitioning from the physical body to one’s inner self or spirit. “Loosening” may be as simple as experiencing the power of Being in the present moment of Life.
One leaf hung on while others let loose. What is it about dying and grieving that allows release or holds so tightly against it? Perhaps we are glued to our pain or life’s attachments. Maybe the heaviness of fear and sadness—instead of assisting the natural pull of gravity to turn the wheel of life—acts as a brake, halting our movement and keeping us stuck to what was. We do in general tend not to honor the full transformational power that letting go carries. But if unacknowledged, grief does hold on. If opened to with respect, expressed, and allowed to “dry out,” grieving enables us to release the stickiness of pain. Hanging on, the leaf was curled up and closed, alone. We who resist death and grief may stay stuck, even isolated, in our pain.
The leaf floated gently through the air. What it is like to detach in death? Is it a straight path? Or does it twist and turn, changing our inner perspective? What surrounds us? Perhaps we move toward a floating “lightness,” or simply feel lighter, as if our energy is somewhere else; maybe our dreams take us far away to a place more present than the voices of our loved ones; maybe we experience the surrounding presence of others in the physical or in spirit—beings of light or loved ones present and past. Maybe we feel surrounded by the airy lightness of love, joy and laughter; maybe time ceases as we wait in the moment for the last grounded connection on some level somewhere to untie. Maybe we just feel free.
The dead leaves gathered at the foot of the tree. If this did not happen, there would be little food for the tree. Turning into compost the dead leaves make a necessary communal giveaway to the earth, making soil, providing energy for life. If perceived from the lesson of the leaf, human death and grief can also be seen as necessary and communal giveaways to the earth—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, light to light—and powerful compost for human life. Death and grief need not be seen only as experiences of that which takes away and creates pain. The leaf teaches us that death and grief can transform into the deepest sustenance for our beings. Death and grief can and do transform us.
Like the leaf we are part of a bigger dream.
Death, thus life.
Cheryl Downey has helped guide journeys through grief and death as a chaplain for over 25 years. She is also certified in spiritual healing and the sacred arts from within a shamanic tradition that teaches the ancient wisdom of woman and nature. To schedule a session call 612-272-3977 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.