Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
Translated by Coleman Barks
I have long been taken by the endless generosity of trees. They are more than human to me, and hence I refer to them with human sounding pronouns, such as she or her instead of it. As a child, I relied on the elm tree in our front yard for understanding and insight into life. Some of my deepest and most foundation lessons came from the elm, especially to never forget humans are latecomers to the larger earthly family.
Now, whenever I travel, my first guide to any terrestrial region on the planet usually is a tree. Exceptions are high altitudes or other non-treed areas. The tree may not be native to the area, but is quite literally a very grounded local inhabitant. Almost as a center of a compass, a tree has a full view of the surrounding terrain and has been a quiet observer of the passing of generations of occupants. The tree’s steady presence feels like an invitation to slow down and see the broader view. While I might just be a visitor passing through, I, too, belong with her and others into this part of the worldly epic.
Most recently, I spent about one third of my waking hours with a frangipani tree. She lived outside the home where I was staying with my dear friend (aka husband) Jay for a half a moon cycle – it was near full moon when we arrived, and shortly after half-moon when we left. During that I time, I began to remember childhood lessons from the elm tree; for example, I observed the grace and fluidity with which the tree danced with the wind, received nourishment, welcomed any insect, bird or mammal and unhurriedly grew new growth.
Within the constant change, the tree was still fully herself. She was there at sunrise and sunset. If I happened to arise in the middle of the night, she quietly reflected the light of the moon and stars. Morning and evening birdsong arose within and around her, yet her quietness remained. Leaves and blossoms slowly came and went, and she gracefully reached outward and upward.
Like a prayer for the well-being of the earth and all beings, she graced the air with her elegant fragrance. Her scent seemed to glide between worldly and extra-worldly realms. I could imagine why some cultures attribute her blossoms as sacred, while others consider them as symbols of death or the supernatural. When coupled with their physical beauty, the smell of the blossoms seemed to evoke a full universe of feelings and memories.
Not surprisingly, when I checked with friends later about the meanings of the frangipani flowers, I heard: hope, passion, intensity, courage, strength, romance, friendship, good fortune, devotion, godliness, nobility, power, purity, death and rebirth, innocence, clarity, healing, beauty, energy, strength, being welcomed, fertility, transcendence, optimism, play, warmth, immortality, and joy. So much lovingly flowing from just one tree!
I hope you also view trees as more than inanimate supports of our human activities – breathing, cooling off in their shade, taking photos, eating, sitting (furniture), building, reading (paper books and media) and playing music (wooden instruments). If anything, my wish is that trees inspire the “humus” (soil, dirt, earth) in humanity to patiently live within the ancient presence of other beings.
This practice brings awareness of our interconnectedness with other humans and species.
- Choose a day when you have some extra time in the morning. On the night before, just as you are ready to go to sleep:
- Simply remember a moment in your day when you were aware that you were interacting with one of the elements, e.g., air, or the life of another species. (There are no further instructions here, but follow your own intuition, e.g., ask yourself, how did that interaction enrich or support your life?) If nothing comes to mind, don’t worry. Just invite awareness that throughout the day, your existence has been supported in all sorts of invisible ways.
- When you awaken from your sleep and still in bed, notice what you first notice. No judgment, just noticing. Take your time.
- Then, before you arise, bring your awareness to the bedding on your bed. For just a few moments, reflect on your bedding. For example: How does it feel on your skin? Soft? Scratchy? How do you feel, taking the time to notice an everyday item?
- If you feel so inclined just for this single morning of practice, you may wish to extend this to a more analytical inquiry.
- For example, you might reflect on: Where was the fabric made? How did it get to the factory or place where the bedding was made? Who transported it? Who made the bedding? What elements support their lives, e.g., water?
- You don’t need to spend a lot of time on this, nor try to find answers to the reflections. This is simply a way to help reawaken our awareness of and respect for the anonymous, intricate, and delicate web of our existence – human and non-human.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Arise. If you have time, sit quietly for a few moments.
- When you are ready, move into your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 74, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, pages 141-143. Photo is by “shelter” on Unsplash. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2023.