What is the Leaf’s Identity?
‘Now, listen here, leaf,’ I said, having come back outside with a fresh cup of tea in hand. ‘You’ve told me that everything in the universe feeds into each other, and because of that you are everything. That makes no sense to me. Does that mean that I am everything as well?’
‘Well, yes of course!’ chuckled the leaf in that familiar way. ‘You are a complete expression of the universe.’
I wanted to say, ‘Nonsense!’ and scoff at him, but I held back for a moment. I wanted to hear its argument fully. ‘But,’ I said, ‘if I am everything, and I am an expression of the universe, then why is it that you appear so different to me? How can I possibly be, for example’- I looked around me –‘the ground, when I am so clearly a human being and the ground is so clearly the ground? There’s nothing connecting us.’
‘My dear human,’ said the leaf, ‘you do understand, of course, that you cannot exist without the ground? Without it you could not stand. And if you cannot be without the ground, then the ground is intrinsically a part of you.’
‘I’m really not sure…’
‘Look,’ sighed the leaf, though it was exhibiting the utmost patience. ‘You have a stream at the bottom of your garden. Do you know where the whirlpool is in the stream?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Go and look at it for a minute, then come back and tell me what you saw.’
I did as the leaf said and went down to the stream a few yards away. I found the whirlpool where it always was and always had been, in between a collection of pebbles that the water coursed through gently. I went back up and told the leaf what I had seen.
‘So you claim you have seen the same whirlpool that has always been there in the time you have known it? Very interesting. Now go back and look at it again.’
I frowned with confusion, but again did as the leaf said and went and looked at the whirlpool. Again I saw exactly the same thing; the whirlpool was unchanged.
I reported this to the leaf. It laughed again, but with me rather than at me, and I couldn’t help but laugh with it, although I couldn’t say why.
‘You think you have seen the same whirlpool – you have not!’ it beamed. ‘You must see that although the formation of the whirlpool is there, it is changing from moment to moment because water is flowing through it and never staying still. Do you understand that, in exactly the same way, that is how you function? From second to second you are a completely different being, but you believe that you are the same because you do not pay close enough attention to your nature.’
‘What on earth are you talking about?’ I scoffed, this time unable to stop myself from all-out scepticism. ‘Of course I am the same from moment to moment. Right now I am Benjamin Tunwell, and right now I am Benjamin Tunwell. I can look at my hand and see that it is the same hand I had yesterday and indeed every single day since my birth. I don’t agree with your argument at all.’
‘Is that so?’ grinned the leaf. ‘Well, consider this. Everything in your body is changing, quite literally. Your skin cells, your brain chemistry, the blood pumping around your body, the food and drink and even the thoughts and emotions that pass through you are all changing constantly. With every second that passes there is a different lungful of air within you. If you are indeed this ‘Benjamin Tunwell’ that you claim you are, then wouldn’t that mean that there is something eternally fixed and unchanging about you?’
I opened my mouth to reply but found I did not know what to say to this. The leaf had stumped me.
‘I suppose,’ I began after a moment’s reflection, ‘that the nature of identity does imply a certain fixedness; and, as you say, everything within me is changing all the time. Now I turn my mind to it I can see that. One moment I am happy, the next moment I am sad, but I am not intrinsically those things.’
‘Precisely,’ nodded the leaf. ‘You and everything else in the universe are constantly changing. You are completely at one with your environment for this reason: the whirlpool that is you, that you call Benjamin Tunwell, cannot exist without the environment that supports it, such as the ground, the food that grows here, oxygen and so on. So, it ought to be perfectly clear that your identity is none other than the entire, eternal universe.’
This, as I am sure you understand, caused a moment of silence.
‘That’s quite a thought,’ I said. ‘But I have such a strong sensation of being trapped within a human body and confronting the universe. I don’t feel as if I am a part of it. I feel as if I’ve come from somewhere else and I’m just travelling through this life, doing as best I can to keep the world from attacking me.’
‘You humans, you really are clueless!’ And the leaf laughed its biggest, most loving laugh yet. I felt a surge, a strange rising of elation. Perhaps I was the eternal universe – perhaps, despite all my life having felt alien and hostile, I was an intrinsic part of my environment, rather than confronting it as an enemy.
‘But how do you know this when humans do not?’
The leaf looked at me sagely.
‘Pay closer attention to nature, my boy,’ it replied, ‘and you will learn everything you ever need to.’