FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
Trees: Patience, Presence and Community
One late summer several years ago, a great oak tree which dominated the property of the house I lived in spontaneously lost a primary limb; destroying a fence, totaling a visiting friend’s car and entirely blocking the thirty foot wide street in one second. The arborist who was summoned to evaluate the sixty foot tall and five foot diameter trunk tree’s health determined that rot in the rest of the great limbs - all of them about three feet in diameter - required the tree to be removed for safety reasons. And so it was. Down to a five inch high stump.
This was a great loss, for the tree was at least 200 years old, one of the remaining few heritage oaks in the neighborhood. Its absence sent ripples of an emptiness which had been filled by its great life for two centuries though the entire valley.
It is easy to take a tree for granted. We are busy and move around all the time in our modern dance of achievement and access to a myriad of opportunities of work and play. Trees just sit there. They seem to do little but grow new leaves and lose them or if evergreen, “do” even less.
But ask yourself, “When is the last time I stopped and wondered over a single tree; what it is, how it is and what it does with where it is?”
How does a tree affect the sound of air movement? We all know that music of the wind moving through a canopy. Ever wondered how the sound of a leafless tree in winter wind sounds different from a fully leafed one in summer’s wind? Which part of a tree moves more easily, which part seems fixed, secure? How does a tree divide its single trunk into so many leaf stems? How is my life affected by trees - their presence and all the things we make out of them? What other lives benefit from just this one tree? What is the invisible part of it doing and how far does that extend down, out?
Spending a little open ended time responding to these few questions could make you late for dinner. And odds are that in the process you would probably generate many times more questions. You might, if you really committed, be having people bring you your sleeping bag and meals for weeks if not months, while you stayed with the process.
I used to imagine Miwok Shamans drumming under that great oak and Miwok children climbing it, hunters and camp guards scouting the horizon from it for many generations. Just that one tree. I wanted intensely to hear the stories that tree could tell. And I am sure it could have told stories of birth, life, death, flood, drought, fire, freeze, feasts and famine. I would imagine a time before any houses or roads were built there and the deer, the bear, bobcat and mountain lion all sleeping under, climbing, clawing the tree. And the tree would quietly persevere, slowly mending any wounds, making no complaint, only remaining available.
That one tree provided how much oxygen to the atmosphere over its life? Oxygen which I and all creatures breathe and share. A tree reaches down into soil and rock for nutrients and water, welcoming the company, in subterranean darkness, spores from the mycological layer to attach themselves to the roots as they remain suspended in time, only to rise to the surface after the tree dies and bloom into mushrooms which nourish the creatures who pass by. The branches and leaves reach towards the sun, transforming light into sugars. One tree gives shelter and leaks food to insects, which are consumed by birds and lizards; shelter and food to rodents, which are in turn consumed by raptors and land predators in a trophic balance which seems almost self-sustaining.
A tree is a system of life. Complete in the balances of light and dark, wet and dry, hot and cold, acid and alkaline, oxygenation and gaseous exchange - all the primary elements which, in harmonious dialogue, is life. A tree breathes and moves and lives as a processor and sustainer for an entire community.
We all have our heros - people who stand for high qualities we hope to reach for. We may have an animal in our lives who stands for that for us, a totem. Have you ever considered a tree as your hero, one who exemplifies virtues you would live to become?
Imagine a tree becoming your hero. The virtues of balance, generosity, acceptance, musicality, kindness, beauty, strength, eloquence, reciprocity, forgiveness, nurturance, gentleness, creativity, reliability, consistency, resourcefulness, wisdom, flexibility, patience and presence all offered to you quietly everyday without prostilitization or punishment or some price to pay to receive those gifts.
Imagine too, how those qualities might become reflections of your own life: How far do you reach into possibility; what moves in you below the surface which sustains you or poisons your potential; in what ways are you solid and secure, what ways flexible; how do you take bad attitudes around you and transform them into a liberated offering to others?
The next spring, I was called to the yard by a cacophony of bird racket. On the fence line at least a dozen birds were all excitedly calling to each other - there must have been at least half-a-dozen different species. They were all surrounding and facing in the direction of the tree stump. No such gathering had ever happened before in the years I had occupied the house or since - anywhere. The gathering and the sound had all the qualities of a human rally; some shared intention to celebrate, protest, discuss or meet about a community issue. And the feeling in my body as I listened to their voices felt so much like what it would feel like to hear people excitedly saying all at once to each other, “Hey, is this where the tree was?” “Where did the tree go?” “Do you know what happened to the tree?” “Why isn’t the tree here?” It lasted a long time.
I could write a short book on the experiences I have had with trees over my life. Some of them would be fantastical - even sound unbelievable. I suspect you might have a few stories of your own. Maybe we will find ourselves sharing the same shade someday, sit down together and speak of our leafy heros to one another. But don’t wait for me. Find someone close, find a tree and begin.
Jin Shin Jyutsu:
The Main Central Vertical Flow is a sequence of hand positions which cummulatively address every aspect of spiritual, psychological and physiological integration, augmenting one's sense of interdependence with all aspects of life. This can be called "Presence". Use daily for a long life.
1) Place Right Hand (RH) gently on crown of head
1) Place Left Hand (LH) on center of forehead
(the quality of touch is gentle contact, the duration is 2-3 minutes each point of contact, RH stays in position #1 until the end)
2) LH moves to tip of the nose
3) LH to hollow of throat
4) LH to center of sternum (chest)
5) LH to Solar Plexus (hollow between base of ribs)
6) LH to 2" above navel
7) LH to 2" below navel
8) LH to front of base of pelvis (pubis)
9) RH to tail bone
More Info »
Restorative Nature Practice:
Find a tree near where you live. One which calls to you that you can easily return to - maybe it is right in your yard. (Be aware of poison oak.)
- Pay it a daily visit.
- Simply observe it features, what creatures come and goes there, what its environment is like.
- Close your eyes. Feel its shape, size, texture; listen to the air move through it; smell it.
- Sit with it, climb in it, ask it if it has any stories to tell you.
- Tell it a tree story of your own from your past.
- Invite a trusted other to share in the experience.
- What do the sensations feel like? How do they affect you emotionally, your state-of-mind?
NEXT MONTH: Empathy: Animals as Teachers and Healers
Tree-sourced foods are beginning to be available.
Loquats, citrus, some figs, nuts - all good in a fruit/nut salad together. Sprinkle a bit of lemon juice on.
PICK OF THE MONTH: David Whyte in San Francisco, May 13th & 14th