Updated: Nov 13
In the backyard, among other perennials, is a persimmon tree. It twists a little bit to the right or the left, depending on where you're standing, away from and towards the sun, depending on the time of day.
Also in the backyard, among other living things, are squirrels. Sometimes, the squirrels pick the fruit before they're ripe, take a bite or two, and leave the rest of it to rot on the ground.
An abortion of fruit. But persimmons are self-pollinating, so.
Sometimes a squirrel gets caught in the trap that Dad set out midway up the trunk of the tree, intended not to harm or kill, but to send a message to the other squirrels.
The squirrels stay encaged for only a day or two, until they've calmed down, or, depending on your level of optimism, cynicism, or realism, until their will has been broken and they've stopped trying to gnaw their way out so that the raw wounds above their little noses have healed over just enough. Then they're set free to scurry away. Disoriented, but alive.
On those days a squirrel is trapped, the other ones stay far away, but I feed it nuts and raisins and water and tell it that I'm really sorry they're in this predicament and to please try to relax, because I promise it won't die here in this cage next to the trunk of the persimmon tree, but it needs to remember to stay away from the persimmons, and don't forget to warn its friends and family, too. Then I say a mantra and do some deep breathing, inviting the squirrel to join in, and I swear it's saying --I can tell looking into its little beady eyes-- some really nasty things to me.
I don't know if it's because I've started taking on couples, or because I am aching to find within me more kindness for a few folks in my art therapy groups who regularly chap my hide, or because the world is falling apart due to the inherent nature of humankind to destroy everything in its path, but I've been impelled to try on other perspectives -- what would it be like to really see out of the eyes of the avoidant wife or the callous husband, to understand what it is to have grown up without the love and guidance of a present parent, to feel the unimaginable and enduring ache of losing a child, to know the debilitating fear of what it is to be entrapped, whether in a set of pitiless and violent ideals or in a metal cage next to the trunk of a persimmon tree.
When I play around with viewing life through a perspective different from my own, what I want to happen is that I ascend to bodhisattva status and all instances of my being an asshole, wielding ignorance and judgment as weaponry to protect the illusion of my egoic self and promote my flawed earthly inclinations, cease instantaneously.
What actually happens is that sometimes my heart opens up to the universal oneness of every living being, and other times the weight of what I'm missing out on by not perpetually living this way crushes and deflates my spirit. It's not news that engaging in negativity depletes our energy, and devotion to seeking the divine elevates us. It's also not news that water seeks its own level, and that tides ebb and flow.
The persimmon is regarded as a symbolic representation of the eight-fold path of Buddhism, practices that lead one to liberation. The fruit holds a sharp and bitter taste during its unripe stage, akin to the challenges of ignorance. The squirrel tries the unripened fruit and tosses it aside. Otherwise, the persimmon matures and ripens into a delightfully sweet fruit, the way our paths of growth lead us from bitterness to the sweetness of wisdom, of truth.
At turns, I am all of these things--
the squirrel, caught in the trap of mindlessness and the cycle of samsara. The cage, a simple container holding the complexities of the human process. The tree, each fruit an experience bearing an opportunity for learning and for letting go.
You may wonder, as I do, why I haven't set the squirrel free right away, why I instead make attempts to cajole it into subduing itself to a state of calm while it is in brief captivity. If every thing is indeed a mirror for the self, perhaps I resist knowing the answer. But tomorrow is another day, another opportunity to ripen into exactly the kind of human I'd like to be before and as this whole thing burns to the ground. May it be so and may I keep learning how to do my part so that all beings everywhere (squirrels included) will be happy and free.