Exactly the Same, Only Different
The overnight low temperature dropped to freezing in the past few days, a sign that autumn is revealing itself. The change in seasons arouses in me feelings of both excitement and dread. Excitement, because trees and leaves become paintings of amazing beauty with yellow, orange, and crimson hues draping the landscape in vibrant color. Dread, because I know the snow will not be far behind and my back is not looking forward to the shovel. No matter what I feel, the seasons will change.
The autumnal cycle gives nature a chance to take a breather from the intense activity of spring and summer—a time to exhale and reset. Everywhere you look plants are letting go of leaves, seeds, and shedding other kinds of foliage. It is a liturgy of release and rest just like an exhaling breath. No wonder breath awareness is an integral part of many meditation techniques. It gives us a chance to recognize our breath is the same as nature’s breath.
In the same way, every breath is different just as every season reveals a cycle in different ways. Sometimes autumn ‘falls’ earlier or later, refusing to adhere to the human contrivance of a calendar. My grandfather had an expression that always tickled me at the time, but now seems quite profound. He would point to a field of wheat and say, “Mike, this looks exactly the same as last year, only different.” He would then laugh with a glint in his eye, a spark of wisdom only someone close to the land can share.
In a tradition that talks about the absolute sameness or ‘single flavor’ of all phenomena, Buddhism also recognizes continuous change is the only constant in our relative experience. All change is the same, only different? So, take in a breath and let it go. Repeat until the breath finds a natural uncontrived pace and rest there. Abide in the ever changing cycle of breath and notice an exhale it is absolutely the same as the falling of leaves in autumn. How wonderful!