In this season the leaves begin to fall and one of my daily activities is to rake them up. Before I moved to France I lived in a second floor apartment so leave raking wasn’t part of my life. I’ve found that I really enjoy it. It gives me great pleasure. I know it’s not the same as a zen monk raking his stones, but there is something of that quality to it. I don’t rush it and the sweeping movements with the rake feel strangely relaxing. It’s also really pleasing to gather the leaves into a heap, then to scoop them up to take them away to the “déchetterie” for composting another day.
I am constantly amazed by the variety of shapes, sizes and colours, and often pause to look at a leaf more closely, to turn it over in my hand and feel its texture.
Once I’ve finished raking it feels like having tidied up, or cleaned a room. It’s satisfying. You can immediately see the results of your efforts.
The other morning I opened the front door, unlocked the shutters and stepped outside to see what I’ve captured in this photo. During the night the wind had worked differently from usual. Instead of scattering the leaves everywhere it had gathered them together into this heap under the tree. I hardly needed the rake that day. I just had to scoop up the leaves with my hands.
I remember years ago I used to read an American magazine entitled “Wired”, and they had a regular column of “new words”, neologisms which people were starting to use. One which really impressed me at the time, and has stayed with me ever since, was the word “pronoia”. You know the word “paranoia”? Which means the delusion that the world is conspiring against you. Well “pronoia” means the delusion that the world is conspiring to help you out!
I had a real sense of pronoia the morning I took this photo……
As I sat down to write this post I remembered a thought which has been attributed to Einstein, although I believe there is no record of him ever having actually said it.
“I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves. For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process. If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning. But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives. God does not play dice with the universe,”
Well, even if he never actually said it, it’s still an interesting thought to turn over in your head for a bit, isn’t it? So many people live as if the universe is harsh and hostile and they need to struggle against it, to overcome it. Yet others believe the universe couldn’t care less and that everything that occurs is completely random and meaningless, even an individual life. But there is this third option, which is that the universe is actually a creative, “friendly” place. If you think that way, then every day becomes filled with wonder and delight. Every day you encounter something, or someone, astonishing.
I prefer the third stance. I think there is too much beauty and elaborate complexity in the universe for it all to come down to either malign intent or apathy. There’s something amazingly wonderful about a leaf, a season, an ecosystem, a bird, a person…..I’ll never tire of being amazed by, and trying to understand, my daily life.