Physical Life Is a Grand Play

Thich Nhat Hanh and the golden yellow leaf


A bright yellow and red autumn leaf on the ground.
A golden yellow leaf on the ground at Evergreen.

The Vietnamese monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, died this week. I was reading a little book of his recently, in which he wrote about a golden yellow leaf he noticed on the ground while walking meditatively around Plum Village in France.


When I saw that beautiful golden leaf, I did not want to step on it and so I hesitated briefly. But then I smiled and thought, “This leaf is only pretending to be gold, pretending to fall from the tree.”


Only pretending? Surely a leaf is a leaf, a rock is a rock, and I am me! There’s no pretense about it. But he’s famous and I’m not, so I calmed down and kept reading.


Further on he referred to the ultimate dimension of things.


My logical, Western, science-nuanced mind perceives the physical world as the only dimension, and if something can’t be perceived through at least one of my five major senses, it doesn’t exist. I see a golden leaf on the ground. I don’t see its ultimate dimension. What did Hanh mean?


He expanded on this. The ultimate dimension is the unborn and undying nature of all phenomena.


I always experience the physical dimension of phenomena. I observe phenomena emerge and dissolve, appear and disappear, come and go. Hanh is asking me to sense the ultimate dimension, that which is there all the time – whether existing as something (standing out, being manifest, taking form) or not existing.


The ultimate dimension is intangible, unable to be perceived through physical senses. The ultimate dimension expresses itself in many ways. Perhaps in the form of a golden yellow leaf, a rock, or a person called Marlane. All these things can be physically perceived.


Hahn was saying I am my physical self as well as my ultimate dimension, just like a wave is always water. They can’t be separated. While the wave runs its course, it is still its ultimate dimension – water. It is both dimensions, at the same “time”. The wave will end but water will not. Water never loses its properties. It just rearranges itself in a variety of waves.


The ultimate dimension expresses physical forms that come and go. So everything is sort of pretending to be something for a short while, before sort of folding back into the ultimate dimension. The golden yellow leaf will dissolve and reappear later, perhaps as another golden yellow leaf for someone else to step on.


Ultimately, in our essence, we are all pretending to be something for a little while. A leaf may last a season. I may clock off in my 90s. A rock may last a million years. But we all appear and then disappear.


Physical life is a grand play. Everything is pretending.


I like this. It removes the cloying layer of seriousness I’ve coated myself with and adds a splash of playfulness. It removes panic. Releases me from pointless worries.


Calling it a pretense doesn’t lessen the value of our lives and what we do. It just points us to a deeper aspect of ourselves that we tend to forget about in the whoosh, gurgle, and whirl of everyday life.


Like the wave is always a part of water, I am always part of the ultimate dimension.


Like the golden yellow leaf, I come and go, pretending to be me! But I am so much more. I am an expression of the ultimate dimension.


And so are you.


With love, Marlane



First published on Medium.com/spiritual-secrets

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