is only possible
while living in the suburbs
As I read this poem by Hafiz, I found myself tempted to complain about complaining. It sometimes seems easier to share a story about a mishap or mistreatment, or an unexpected event. Fortunately there was post-it note on my desk reminding me of “an elm tree.”
There was elm tree that stood for decades in the front yard of my parent’s farm in Western Kansas on the High Plains. It was planted by my father and survived droughts, disease, lightening, gale force winds, blizzards, high heat, hail, and ever-changing weather. Yet, it steadily grew without complaint.
As a child, I would rest in the grass and watch the elm’s leaves dance in the wind and sunlight. It seemed to always be there whenever I needed comfort. For example, I appreciated its quiet presence when I sat next to it after our dog Poochie died, and later, our dog Rider. In my early teens, when my best friend started dating the boy whom I secretly loved, the elm silently reassured me that life goes on. Outdoor family photos often included some part of the tree, even if only its shadow.
Even after I moved to Europe for a while, it offered inspiration. When I first attempted a yoga pose named “tree,” it was there to teach me. Initially the lesson was just with physical balance, which was extra challenging with my inner-pronated feet. The balance on one foot came as I learned to use my feet with the same stability as my childhood tree-friend that was securely tethered to the earth. Its cousins in the form of the wooden floor fully supported me.
Over the years, more of its limbs died and broke off. For at least ten years, my father would announce, “this would be the year” when he would have to cut down “that old elm.” In his usual succinct way, his announcement would be short, followed by a pause inviting some feedback or comment. Each year, there was a silent message that his commitment had grown stronger and that we need to prepare ourselves that eventually the elm would really be cut down.
During that decade, I thought about what it would really be like when the elm was gone. I would miss its crusty old bark and graceful presence. I would miss its lopsidedness from having lost limbs in stormy weather. Its trunk had grown wide with age and seemed to sink more solidly into the ground. In the warm seasons, the leaves that sprouted on its branches still rustled delicately as though singing to a cloudless blue sky. Its branches continued to reach upward and outward as though expressing its eternal beauty and presence.
Whenever I visited, I sat down on a walkway close to this gracious tree. I would trace its shape with my eyes from its base where the roots sank into the ground up to its uneven and mostly barren branches. One consistent message was that it was what it was, nothing more and nothing less. It was a singular expression of the divine Self. Rather than trying to be the sky, a blade of grass, or any other part of nature, the elm’s energy was focused on being a tree.
On my last visit with the family elm tree, it had this message: “Sway with the wind but remain steady. Be still and feel the raging storms rush over you. Accept the storms and allow a part of yourself to release in return. Time is for release and change. Listen. All that you need to know is there. Open your arms to the sky as I reach my limbs toward the heavens. Mirror the seasons to the fullest, so that others might share in your splendor. Each season has its beauty. If it is fall, do not mourn springtime. Be a witness to others as I have been to you. Tolerate and nourish those around you for they compliment your natural brilliance. When your body becomes diseased, remember your true self. For even though I have been stricken with elm disease, I am still the elm that I have always been. Anchor yourself firmly in the universal wisdoms no matter how rich or sparse they may seem. Be. Just be.”
It is now nearly ten years since my father cut down the elm. Even though both the tree and my father are gone, their lessons live on.
- Prepare –
- Sit on the floor or in a chair. If in a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
- Practice –
- Rub your palms together vigorously for a few seconds. Then, place your hands lightly over your eyes. Breathe as though you are caressing the breath.
- Rub your palms together again. Then, place your hands over your jaw and sides of the face. Breathe softly and gently.
- One last time, rub your palms together. Then, place your hands over your heart with one hand on top of the other. Breathe.
- Release your hands to the sides of your body. Sweep your hands and arms upward . Pause for a breath with your hands are overhead.
- Bring your palms together overhead. Then, with the palms still together, lower your hands to your heart.
- Bow your head slightly. Make a vow of to be complaint free.
- Transition into your sleep –
- Stay seated. Close your eyes or have a soft gaze. Sit quietly for several minutes.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem is Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 12, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.
HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com. KateVogt©2019.
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