“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.”Herman Hesse
Have you ever had a special tree? I have, and if my friend, Jim, or my siblings are reading this, they know just the one. Growing up, we had “the tree.”
We met at the tree every day for years. It was magical. One main trunk went straight up, supporting little suckers for branches that we trusted to help us climb high above the earth. A large limb stuck up and out over the road. We could climb 15 feet up before we’d run out of branches and have to shimmy like an athletic Caribbean boy going for the coconut at the top. There was a pretty decent expanse of embracing the tree with our arms and legs and chin, literally hanging on for dear life. It was worth it, though, to be a tree hugger, up there in the blue sky and the willowy breezes. Happy to be alive, not exactly sure what getting down might look like. And then we’d hang out down below, in the anti-chamber of sorts, bouncing on branches, bantering with each other. The tree provided a sacred space for us, the center of our 10-year-old universe.
One summer’s day, the unbelievable happened. The tree crashed down. As it turns out, the part of him that grew out over the road was mostly hollow. Our parents focused on that horrifying fact and the unlikeliness that none of us were climbing when it smacked the pavement. We were always there.
We loved him. Our parents didn’t understand the emptiness that was left behind. Watching his lifeless body chainsawed to pieces and hauled away was confusing, at best. We were left homeless.
That was my tree.
Trees have been held sacred throughout time. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of life. The Buddha became enlightened when he pulled away from life and sat at the foot of the Bodhi tree. Even Newton had his epiphany under a tree. Trees are firmly rooted and relevant in each of our lives. In their lifetime, they provide fruit, oxygen, shelter, and shade for humans and animals alike. And, even after the last of their energy has left them, they continue to sustain us with the kindling they provide. They stand tall through the seasons of life: blossoming in spring, flamboyant in fall, firmly grounded in summer and winter.
Not everyone is lucky to know a tree like ours. But, chances are, there is one that comes to mind or one you might notice today. Pause for a minute. Whether you are enjoying warmer climates on a spring-like day or still withstanding the harshness of winter, the trees stand with you. Look, breathe, reflect, connect.
When you look at a tree during the storm, you see that its branches and leaves are swaying back and forth violently in the strong wind. You have the impression that the tree will not withstand the storm. You are like that when you are gripped by a strong emotion. Like the tree, you feel vulnerable. You can break at any time. But if you direct your attention down to the trunk of the tree, you see things differently. You see that the tree is solid and deep-rooted in the ground. If you focus your attention on the trunk of the tree, you realize that, because the tree is firmly rooted in the soil, it cannot be blown away.
Each of us, in a sitting or standing position, is like the tree. When the storm of your emotion is passing by, you should not stay in the thick of the storm, the level of the brain or the chest. When you are overwhelmed by strong emotions, don’t stay there -it’s too dangerous. Bring your focus down to your navel – that is the trunk, the most solid part of yourself – and practice mindful breathing. Become aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen. Doing this in a stable position, such as the sitting position, you feel much better. Just breathe. Don’t think of anything. Breathe through the movement, the rise and fall of your abdomen. Practice in this way for ten or fifteen minutes, and the strong emotion will pass through.
– Fear, Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm by Thích Nhát Hanh