Remembering a Falling Leaf

I have kept a diary on and off for over twenty years. The other day, while glancing through some pages, I came across an unusual entry from November 16, 1997. At that time, Carl Jung’s ideas about the unconscious mind had taken over as my primary interest. His notions of archetypes, the anima / animus, and the collective unconscious intrigued me. I had begun to notice the little clues the unconscious always leaves for those who are paying attention.

Tree by Varadi Zsolt

On a still autumn evening I could hear withered leaves slithering to the ground. My unconscious mind began making associations…
(Image: public domain.)

Some Christians believe that to be close to the unconscious is to be close to God. I am not religious, but I do understand why they might feel that way. In 1997, I was living in the country on a heavily wooded five-acre hillside lot. Young cottonwood trees surrounded the house. Placid deer grazed clover at my back door. Elusive cougars, following the deer herd, left huge paw prints on the driveway’s soft sandy edges. In that wilderness setting, one remarkably calm autumn evening in November, I experienced a particularly charming example of unconscious magic.

November 16, 1997

“I had one of my remarkable experiences with the unconscious this evening. It has been dry and cool of late, and when that happens with leaves still on the trees I can hear them clattering to the ground in the quiet spells.

A Woodland Path in Autumn

Autumn colours and absolute stillness. (Image: public domain.)

This evening I began casting about for a fresh book to read, and as I sat quietly considering some possibilities (Hannah Arendt’s Willing, David Walder’s Nelson…) I heard a single dry leaf crisply slither through some branches and fall gently to earth. Naturally, I thought nothing of it – or so I believed! Continuing with my deliberations, I removed David Walder’s biography of Nelson from the shelf, but something just didn’t feel right about the book, so I added it to a stack of volumes beside my CD-player. Next, I picked up David Walker’s, Sandy was a Soldier’s Boy, but again something wasn’t right. (I didn’t see it at the time, but as I write this I notice how similar the names of the two authors are.) In the end, after some nervous pacing and fretful indecision, I decided to go with Arendt’s Willing.

And that’s when the fun began.

Right away, without knowing why, I knew I had made the right decision! I opened the book to where I had left a bookmark several months ago (Thinking is in the same volume) and discovered that the marker had a little poem printed on it by the Japanese poet, Ryokan:

I sit quietly,
Listening to the falling leaves.
A lonely hut, a life of renunciation.
The past has faded,
Things no longer remembered.
My sleeve is wet with tears.


I suppose my memory must have made the link between the falling leaf and the forgotten poem on the bookmark, but below the threshold of awareness. Done this way these things feel rather uncanny, but I think if one had total recall, the phenomenon would appear straightforward.”

I did read Hannah Arendt’s Willing. Like Jung, she went on to become a major influence in my life.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

5 thoughts on “Remembering a Falling Leaf”

  1. Absolutely! I now live in a small town, but the beat goes on. Instead of falling leaves, a license plate number or letter combination will jump out at me in a parking lot. Or sometimes even a vehicle’s name (“Element”, “Sonata”) will seem oddly significant or apropos. The human mind is just wired to notice things in this way. The religious impulse has to go somewhere.

  2. There is something deeply satisfying about an object or event that seems meaningful or significant without our having anything to do with it. Humans have a strong preference for believing that the world around them is neither random nor indifferent to their existence. However, it is wise to remember that synchronicity is like beauty; it is all in the eyes of the beholder. What seems significant to you may mean nothing to others. Synchronicity is a way of learning something about your own psyche. When something seems like synchronicity, ask yourself why you think so. The situation is probably your own unconscious mind trying to tell you something.

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