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Walking down a dirt trail that follows the Boise River on a lovely fall day — what could be better? The warm sun is on my back, light bounces off the rippled surface of the river, and the path is dappled with poplar leaves. What first catches my artist’s eye is the diversity of color, value, pattern, size, and texture of the leaves. No two leaves are deteriorating in the same way. This realization triggers a more philosophical direction in my thinking moving away from the initial fascination of design. The individuality of death is probably true of most organic life, including human beings. Although there are similar aspects of aging, the process is unique for all.
This thought brought to mind a classic teaching of the Buddha. In guiding his followers on developing an understanding of the transient nature of all existence, he encouraged his students to contemplate the disintegration of their own human body after death, following the body through each step of decay to the bones turning to dust. While this may seem morbid to some people, it is a very effective way, with frequent repetition, to build an understanding of the very temporary nature of our own being. One of the Buddha’s most liberating teachings is the deep understanding of impermanence.
As I looked at the poplar leaves on the path they seemed to offer a beautiful analogy of this concept of impermanence. The cycle from green leaves fallen to dusty skeletons of leaf veins were arrayed before me. Since I feel intimately engaged in the aging process, I decided to contemplate the decay of the leaves as a substitute for my body. Painting has always been my tool of contemplation and learning. Use this book as an aid in your understanding of impermanence, or just reflect on the beauty and diversity of the leaves, either way — enjoy.
Mark W. McGinnis