by e.e. cummings


It would be easy to dismiss this poem because we have to shift our method of gathering and interpreting information. Rather than streaming left to right, and relying on recognized collections of letters that become words by virtue of the space between them, we must be curious enough to find a pattern in the unfamiliar. There are two statements within its bounds. If we could envision the poem as framed art, the frame is


the expression is

a leaf falls

Among many other studies, this poem invokes inquiry thus

  • What is a journey alone?
  • What is a lone journey?
  • What is a journey in loneliness?
  • What is a lonely journey?
  • What is a leaf without journey?

I thank Steve Matuszak for bringing this poem to my attention. He used l(a as a touchstone to speak eloquently about the study of “self” in a Dharma Talk at Dharma Field Zen Center. Teasings on this poem can also be found at Poem a Day.

© 2015 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

The Fluidity of “Self”

A recent Post-A-Day Challenge invited writers to use water as a theme to describe their real selves. With the imagery of Ice-Water-Steam, the prompt is What does it mean to be the same thing in different forms?

Is it true that we are a same thing but have different forms? Is it possible to be the same if we have changed? What are we the same as? Aren’t we always in transition from moment to moment? Is it we who are in transition, or is transition who we really are?

A few miles from our home is Minnehaha Falls. This magnificence is near the end of a small, winding creek that runs from Lake Minnetonka to the Mississippi River. In summer, the falls may trickle or gush. Each winter it is frozen. To say it is Minnehaha Falls, and it is ever-changing is understood within common sense. But what if we took a moment to question this? What if the assumption, same but different, doesn’t hold water?

We think of Minnehaha Falls just as we think of ourselves: One particular thing that changes. Minnehaha Falls is as much the outcrop as it is the flowing H20. It is as much the creek as it is the crashing into stone. It is the vapor that nourishes rock moss and clouds. It is the separate droplets that look like one stream. It is Lake Minnetonka, the entire watershed, and rain storms (or drought). This is the indivisible, spatial dimension of the falls, and this interrelatedness extends to the whole universe. Where does that rain storm originate?

Minnehaha Falls frozenThe moving waters we call Minnehaha Falls are also inseparable from the past. The banks that meander as creek were the base of a miles-wide glacier millennia ago. And as it melted, a monstrous river crashed down to a powerful whirlpool that carved the shale basin of we see today. In this age of humans, visitors can appreciate the grinding of erosion’s horizontal spin. These manifestations of the past cannot be excluded from the motion of the falls today. When would we draw the line between then and now?

We name the falling water, Minnehaha, but this happening is more than a name. Minnehaha Falls is a culmination of conditions. I am a culmination of conditions, as well.

I am my past experiences. I am what I’ve received and discarded. I am the interactions with my parents, my children, my friends and colleagues. I am my relationship with nature, even visits to Minnehaha Falls. I am supported by the earth, the sun, the moon, and the universe.

Is Minnehaha Falls changing or simply always new? Am I changing or simply always new? Every moment is a new culmination of universal conditions, just as that culmination makes way for more. Flow. Fluidity.

But here’s the exciting part. My conditions are not separate from the conditions of the falls. Each “set” extends to all times and directions. The conditions are a dimensionless overlap of non-interference. The encounter is a dimensionless overlap of non-interference.

When I visit the falls, the falls are me. When I tend to my garden, my garden is me. Any relationship, any happening, is what has risen to the surface in the sea of conditions. The conditions are fluid. The surface is not separate from the sea. How we attend to relationship, is how we attend to the depths of our life.

See life as it is, and it will open your heart.

© 2015 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

Ice, Water, Steam