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Just be, as you are

We’re in the middle of winter here in Canada. I’m usually in India this time of the year, but due to some unavoidable circumstances, I have to stay holed up in my home-away-from-home. Not a big deal, considering most of us were holed up in our homes for the majority of the year. And the year before that. Thanks, COVID-19.

In a few months, though, spring will come knocking ’round the corner. In Japan, every spring you get to witness the sakura bloom. Originally used to divine the year’s harvest, sakura (桜) came to embody wabi-sabi philosophy, and shinto ideals of hope, impermanence, and renewal.

Before the sakura blossoms became synologous with hanami, people during the Nara period actually watched the plum, or ume trees blossom. In fact, while Japan sees the cherry blossoms (桜) bloom, it also sees 3 more trees that bloom around the same time: apricot (杏 commonly 李), peach (桃 commonly モモ), and plum (梅 ).

In these spring days, when tranquil light encompasses the four directions, why do the blossoms scatter with such uneasy hearts? — “waka” Hisakata No, Ki no Tomonori

Oubaitori is made up from the kanji for these four trees. It’s a Japanese idiom that tries to reinforce the incomparable notion of non-comparison into our daily lives. Each of these 3 trees bloom during spring, but in their own time. When the plum trees blossom is not of importance to the apricot trees.

This story might be completely made up in my head, but it’s one that I keep thinking of a lot. Like, a lot. A group of researchers once decided to conduct an experiment: they picked two random trees in a forest that were old, and looked (arboreally) malnutritioned. Then the researchers gathered a bunch of people, and split them in two group, each group asked to surround one tree. Next, the researchers asked one group to get up close to their tree, and speak words of empathy, encouragement, and love, and were instructed to not compare it to the other trees in the forest. The other group was asked to surround their tree, but instead were instructed to bad-mouth it, cuss at it, and were told to specifically compare it to the flourishing trees in the forest, the complete opposite of the other group.

At first, there was no visible difference between the two trees. But over the next week, the researchers noticed that the leaves of the tree that was being cursed were starting to fall, its branches breaking off, and overall the tree just seemed to wither away. The other tree, seemed to be flourishing, and started growing flowers! I think you get where I’m going: by the third week, the tree that was given love was the only tree remaining. The other tree was dead. After all, comparison is the thief of joy.

The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else.

I can’t seem to find any such experiment ever conducted (if you know of it, and can send me an article on it, that’d be great), but this “story” weighs heavy on me. Any time I think of comparing myself to another, I immediately stop. It is one of the few reasons I can maintain my sanity. Perhaps my brain made up the story all on its own as a coping mechanism. Our brains are truly fascinating, but I digress.

Just remember: each person’s journey is different. Trust in yours, and have patience in it. You’re able to make truly great things only when you stop comparing yourself to others. In letting go of comparison, you will enjoy life more. You will live life as intended. At your own pace. But don’t get too comfortable, either. This is your last life.