The persistent seed
It’s not unusual to see vegetation sprouting through cracks in the pavement, but this little plant was growing in mud alongside a railroad track that had been thoroughly covered with oil. That it’s growing at all speaks to me of the resilience and continuity of life. However the seed got there and despite the conditions and a harsh winter, when the moment was right, they awakened to the call of Spring and, rising in the direction of heat and light, gave birth to the form of their “ancestors.”
Observing this process—and relating it to the lifecycle of maize plants—the ancient and modern Maya of Central America adopted the belief that death gives rise to life. While the ancients believed that only divine kings would reincarnate, the general population believed—as many do today—that their sons and daughters “replace” the souls of their grandfathers and grandmothers, providing continuity of their lineages essence.
Ethnographers studying the Maya report that within certain societies, when an elder dies his relatives begin to look for his “kex,” a newborn replacement for him within the extended family. This is somewhat similar to the Tibetan’s search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. For the Maya, as with maize and other crops, birth and rebirth demonstrates conclusively that life is not a straight line of events from birth to death, but a continuous cycle, a “sacred round” wherein life “breathes” in and out, allowing old forms to die and new forms to be born.
Although the forms we take bear some resemblance to those of our fathers and mothers, and we carry within us their genes—along with many of their values, beliefs and aspirations—we are, like the plants in this image, new and unique individuals carrying forward and evolving our biological essences. And doing this in the context of fresh conditions with expanding social and technological complexity the capacity and direction of thought—consciousness—also evolves.
Just as the composition of the soil influences a plant, the physical, mental and social composition of the environments we grow up in condition our thinking, responding and creating in ways that are different from our parents. Because consciousness increases with complexity, each generation is more knowledgeable and aware than the last. And this increased awareness, particularly as it multiplies and globalizes, will lead us—gracefully at times; painfully at times—to assume greater responsibility for the quality of the “soils” that will nourish our grandchildren and their grandchildren when they “Touch the Earth,” the Maya way of referring to incarnation.
For indigenous people the world around, maize was the perfect metaphor for life because a single stalk cannot stand; it will easily be toppled by gusts of wind. To survive, it must grow in close community where there is mutual support.
To live is to communicate life, because life is essentially a spreading, growing phenomenon. Therefore, the more one communicates life, affirms life in one’s fellows, gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is alive, is truly living, and thus, is truly oneself.
Beatrice Bruteau, Philosopher
Author, Radical Optimism: Practical spirituality in an uncertain world