Tree Stories: Lessons for Balanced Living
My first tree stories go back to my some of my earliest memories. When I was quite young, my grandmother gave me the nickname “Squirrel.” Summers spent with my Oma Elsje and Opa Hugo led me to time in nature. I would spend endless hours in the garden and pitch pine forest behind their small cottage on Cape Cod, and somewhere along the way I realized that a necklace could be made from pine needles. I would daily return to the cottage with chains of them, having mercilessly de-needled the pines at a pace that could only be compared to the rascally red squirrels that then populated the forest.
Those red squirrels were cute but they were also major pests. They stole the bird’s food! And ate other things they were not supposed to-like bird eggs and, yes, pine needles! (It should also be noted that my Oma, had always made it a concern to feed all the animals who passed through her yard.) “Squirrel”, then, was a name given with classic unapologetic Dutch humor. But it forever linked my memory to some of my best childhood memories.
Trees have always been a source of inspiration for me. When I begin to draw or paint, the theme is almost always tree-related, or layered in to some part of the meaning. Rooted here, taking up water and nutrients, and growing towards the light, giving food, shelter, shade, and life-oxygen to all life.
Trees are simply heroes. For example:
“A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year” (Arbor Day Foundation). And, “a single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs./year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support 2 human beings” (McAliney1).
When I began studying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture I learned that the tree represented the Wood element, the axis between heaven and earth, representing our hope, our flexibility, both physically and mentally, and our ability to have clarity and vision in our lives.
It is a theme that takes me back to a post from several years ago that I am compelled to share again now. As an acupuncture student, one of our classes focused on cultivating relationships with the environment around us so as to heighten our sensory awareness. As a class we went to a state park and were sent out individually into the woods for an hour or so. I ended up sitting at the base of an enormous oak tree, and hearing a stream of consciousness narrative run through my head as I did. What I was hearing seemed like instructions and reminders for how to live. I wrote it down as fast as it came in my journal.
This was eight years ago now, but the experience and message (in italics below) feels just as vital and present as ever, and even more so with this past weekend and the visit of Pope Francis in Philadelphia. While I am not religious in the traditional sense, I do resonate with the truth and love found at the very heart of all faiths. An elder made the good point that seeing Pope Francis and the joy and happiness he inspires reminds us that we all have the potential for that great love and happiness within us. He is an embodiment of a state of love that each of us can live into-what an incredible message!
I hope the sharing below reminds you of lessons that you may have forgotten, or inspires you along the way to create greater peace and freedom in your life.
I am just being, parts of me rustle in the wind. But at my core, I am dark, expanding within, rings upon rings; water is slow moving up, but I am still within it all. What clings to my bark I hold; seed pods, a worker ant; I am old. But I am here, now. I know it may not always be so, so I am certain of my life’s expression. I will nurture and hold indifferently, my purpose is unaffected by this. I seek the clear, open spaces, and the only road there is through union with everything that surrounds, through disappearance. Yet I am one, unique, nothing else exists like me, and nothing else ever will. I point to the sky even as I am rooted here in the earth; look, listen, I point to the sky! I give shelter as I do my work; I enjoy the natural benefit of life without design. I am content to be. In my leaves there is joy and I know that they will fall. But I do not seek to dampen any expression. The cycle is without end; human life is precious, having capacities for action that a simple tree cannot; but know that each has a purpose nonetheless. While humans can confuse and muddy the water, we cannot, and humans can learn from our purity of being and faith in simple expression. There should be no question. Be at peace with the way each one is. Receive light where it falls, nutrients where they are provided. Winds move around and some through. They give us strength, courage, and body; they shape our destiny. Fear is unreal. You only have to look at my roots to know it. We go to the deep, dark, places; reservoirs of Qi live there in the unknown where people rarely go–afraid of the still, afraid of the deep; but this is where we gather strength, this is how we manifest outward and know our inner nature simultaneously. This is love, this is not a guarantee, it is a labor into the unknown moved by a Source within. It is a truth allowing us to manifest in our true form. Don’t you know what you were meant to be? To meet me on this day? Be reminded by the worker ant, how to live, unselfishly, from pure consciousness. Seek the open spaces that exist in the crowded creation forest. You can be part of it all and still know this spaciousness.
Questions to journal on:
1. How comfortable are you with simple being (as opposed to always doing?)
2. What is your life’s unique expression?
3. How are you fostering it?
4. Are you willing to look deep into yourself to find strength and courage?
Daily contemplation, walking, and acupuncture can help you attune to knowledge you already have within, but may have trouble hearing at times. The often busy pace of life, as well as our conditioning/fear that keep us in a loop of unsatisfying but addictive habits are broken by these practices. For more information on how to live with intentionality visit my previous post: “Four Points for Living with Intention.”
1 McAliney, Mike. Arguments for Land Conservation: Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection, Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993