A long time ago, nearly 50 years now, I was walking through an open market in a small, upscale beach town. Colorful booths of various sizes were displaying the works of local artisans. The late summer afternoon was warm and beautiful, refreshed by a cooling sea breeze that washed away any gathering heat.
I was content just to be there, taking in all the sights and sounds. Besides, nothing is more pleasurable to an inveterate treasure hunter than the hope he might just stumble upon something no one else has seen, or wants.
And then it happened.
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First Encounter with a Bonsai Tree
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the thirty odd, old, small wooden benches. They were of differing heights all laid out – in three parallel lines – with space allowed to walk between them. Upon them sat dozens upon dozens of diminutive trees. Of course, I had heard of Bonsai trees before but had never actually seen a living specimen. Each tree was a miniature version of a towering pine, elm, or oak. And, stranger still, each little tree was planted in a small, ancient-looking pot that appeared way to shallow to support it, let alone allow the tree to thrive.
I was spellbound, literally; the next thing I knew – like a moth to the proverbial flame – I was drawn into the center of their display.
And then, something even more inexplicable took place.
As I stood over the first bench before me, my eyes became fixed on some kind of pine tree that stood less than twenty inches tall, but that had the appearance of being over a hundred years old! Its weathered, ancient trunk – turned almost back in upon itself – radiated a silent story; it told of a solitary life alone upon some steep sea cliff where – buffeted by unrelenting winds – its character had been shaped by the hardships it was given to bear. And with this one impression came – rolling over me, like a wave from some unknown sea within my heart – an overwhelming emotion and I started to cry.
I knew full well that I was in a public place, yet, I was powerless to contain my feelings; so powerful was the impression received from this one tree – not to mention the feeling of being surrounded by a miniature forest of other perfect specimens – the beauty of it all outweighed any concern of being seen as a fool, or a madman. The rest of that afternoon was spent in a private audience before each of these ancient trees, eager to hear their individual stories. There was no way to explain it back then, but now I understand at least some of the real reasons behind this uncanny attraction, including the strong emotional reaction that came on its heels.
Emotional Lessons Learned
Everything points to the existence of a timeless interior Presence that doesn’t just precede the relationships we are drawn to in our lives, but that actually serves to “arrange” them, including whatever life lessons we take from these encounters. Within each of us lives a tireless, latent longing to touch – and to be touched by – the invisible celestial forces of Life. For instance, whenever we stand as a silent witness to the endless expanse of a dark night sky, we are inwardly moved by this outer display of timelessness spread out above us. We can’t help being drawn to look at a newborn child because the innocence we see within its eyes stirs the depths of our own heart, reminding us of a vital, but now largely forgotten virtue. Again, drinking in these exterior impressions awakens, moves, and reminds us of something still latent within us.
Discovering More About the Self
Which brings us to this very important point: Each and every one of these precious impressions – taken in from around us, regardless of its nature – does more than just touch us: they reveal us to ourselves; they actually serve to “tell us” something about our inner-most self that can’t be heard or felt in any other way. In other words, anything – that is reflected upon the mirror of one’s soul – be it a majestic mountain, a single red rose, or a smile on the face of someone we love – creates a kind of instant and corresponding recognition within us. And through this higher self-awareness our new eyes see the truth that sets us free:
The supposed “other” person, that stirring moment, whatever experiences we are drawn to reflect within us are not really “other” at all. Everything we can realize in this life, or in any kingdom come, is already an indwelling part of our consciousness, and it always has been! This understanding, and the unshakable self-knowledge it provides, is the secret wellspring of all spiritual mystics, saints, and sages; it is their undying source of wisdom, compassion, and strength, regardless of whatever religious tradition they may have come to represent in passing time.