contemplating the leaf

One autumn day while walking in a park, I became absorbed in the contemplation of a very small and beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. It was turning red and barely hanging on to the branch, about to fall. I spent a long time with this leaf …. Usually we think of the tree as the mother and the leaves as its children. But contemplating the leaf, I could see that the leaf was also a mother to the tree. The sap that the tree’s roots take up, called xylem sap, is only water, amino acids, and minerals, not rich enough to nourish the tree. So the tree distributes that sap to the leaves, which, with the help of the sun and carbon dioxide, transform it into phloem sap, rich in sugars, which the leaves send back to nourish the tree. So the leaves are also a mother to the tree. …

“We are like that leaf. When we were in our mother’s womb, we were also linked to her by a stem, an umbilical cord. All our nourishment came through the umbilical cord. Our mother breathed for us, ate for us, drank for us, did everything for us. Then one day that cord was cut, and we started to think of our mother and ourself as two different entities. In fact, our mother continued to nourish us like before. Our parents are present in every cell of our body. We continue to receive nourishment from our mother, as well as the suffering and the troubles of our mother, which continue to influence us, as they did when we were in the womb. That cord is still there, not just until we turn eighteen, but for our whole life.

”When we can see the umbilical cord, we can start to see the countless umbilical cords that link us to life all around us. There is an umbilical cord that exists between us and the river…. So the river is also a mother and there is an invisible umbilical cord between us. … There is another umbilical cord betweens and the clouds, between us and the forests, and another between us and the sun. The sun is like a parent to us. Without our link we to the sun we could not live, and neither could anything else. We are nourished and sustained by countless parents….

Excerpt From
The Other Shore
Thích Nhất Hạnh

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