There’s a tree that existed before the woods,
in age twice as old.
Its roots suffered as the valley changed,
its leaves deformed by wind and frost.
People all laugh at its withered aspect,
caring nothing about the core’s beauty.
When the bark is all stripped off,
only essence remains.
Trans. by Tony Barnstone
Rustle. Rustle. Rustle. I turned around expecting to see another walker on the path, but there was no one there. No person. No squirrel. No sign of a moving being. Perhaps I had imagined the sound of movement behind me. The long shadows likely had amplified my awareness of being on a quiet, and somewhat remote, pathway late in the day.
There was a warmth in the air and few rays of sunshine lit the path ahead. Spiderwebs glistened in the light, offering a quiet reminder of the life around me. A light breeze moved the webs in rhythmic waves revealing silvery threads stretching from the circular masterpiece to a vast network of thick, curved branches.
Oak trees lined the pathway. Their crowns intertwined forming a lacy, green archway overhead. Faint traces of light blue showed through the openings, reminding me of the expansive space of the sky and universe beyond. Surely if the soil were transparent, another network would have been visible – the roots reaching outward and downward while steading the trunks and limbs, which appeared more than twice the age of the eldest human.
It was humbling to consider their oak relatives elsewhere in the world with a lifespan up to one thousand years. And, even more humbling to appreciate that their ancient relatives reach back millions of years. It is no wonder humans have long adored, admired, and even worshiped these magnificent tree-beings. Their longevity and expansive outer form invite a broader view of life beyond the entanglements that we have created for ourselves, inspiring a pondering and embracing of larger life purpose and meaning.
Wherever rooted, the oak is a steady witness. As a continual bearer of wisdom to whomever comes near, the oak emanates strength, steadfastness, and stability; conveys contentment, community, connection, and completeness; and, bears beauty, breath, and balance with grace and serenity.
Oaks are known for their resilience, often withstanding severe weather conditions and inhospitable growing conditions. They are also unsurpassed earthly friends, endlessly offering shade, shelter, protection, healing, solace, and nourishment to animals, birds, insects, humans, and all beings. Their trunks are transformed into musical instruments, boats, furniture, wine barrels, houses and sacred arches.
Rustle. Rustle. Rustle. The scurrying sound of an oak leaf pushed by the wind along the surface of the path. Together, the wind and leaf offered an invitation to pause and notice the true loving essence beneath the color, age, shape, and all other superficial outer labels and measurements. More often I will try to pause, firmly planted, inviting connection to heavenly truth and honesty with earthly roots. I hope you will join me.
This practice invites awareness of living with a steady yet light presence.
- If comfortable, remove your shoes and socks. Then, stand either on the earth or bare floor. Lift and spread your toes a few times, then curl them under once or twice.
- Invite your weight to balance evenly between your feet, i.e., with somewhat equal weight on your left and right foot, and the front and part of your feet. If it feels difficult to sense a balanced weight, please no worries. Feel the support of the ground beneath you. Silently offer gratitude for this enduring support for all life.
- To an extent that is comfortable, bend both of your knees coming into a half squat. Please take care to keep your directly over your ankles, i.e., not leaning forward. Your arms may be at your sides or on your waist. Pause here a few seconds and feel the strength in your thighs and appreciating the support beneath you and within your own body. Then, return to standing.
- Still standing, reach your hands toward the sky. Please take care and do this in a way that feels comfortable for your shoulders. Imagine as though you are firmly rooted to the ground beneath you. Simultaneously you are lifting upward through your torso and arms.
- Softly spread through your palms and fingers. If this creates tension in your shoulders, neck, or face, invite your elbows to bends until you feel some ease in your body and breath, wiggle your fingers and sway your forearms as though being gently moved by a breeze. Silently, offer gratitude for the expansive space that holds the entire universe.
- Slowly lower your arms, crossing your arms across your upper chest and allowing each hand to rest on the opposite upper arm or shoulder. Allow yourself to receive a hug from yourself. Slightly bow your head and silently offer appreciation for all that you are and all that and those who have and are supporting your in endless ways. Thank them for being your earthly kin. Then, change the cross of your arms and thank yourself for being an expression of love and friendship toward yourself and life to the best of your ability. Pause here, inviting a gentle, easy breath.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Transition to a seated position. If you are in a chair or bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the ground. Rest your hands over your upper chest, either with palms together or one hand lightly resting on top of the other over your heart-center.
- Gently recall the strength and support beneath you, the lightness above you, and the kinship around you. Invite in a glimpse of the feeling that from the moment of your birth you have been held, lifted up, and loved within and without. If you have a particular faith, silently offer prayerful gratitude for the presence of sacred grace in every moment. Pause here, inviting a gentle, easy breath.
- Allow your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable, e.g., on your thighs or on your lap. Sit quietly for several minutes.
- Then, when you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 123, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The photo by a photographer who goes by the nickname AVTG. This HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.