Our Relationship with Trees
“Let’s take our hearts for a walk in the woods and listen to the magic whispers of old trees” – Author Unknown
The most frequently requested guided visualization in my meditation groups is for one that includes trees. The special relationship we, as humans, have with trees is as old as Mankind and has shaped our spiritual beliefs and cultures across the world, providing philosophers, artists, poets and writers with a rich source of inspiration down through the ages.
We’ve invested trees with sacred meanings and symbols of immortality and fertility. In folklore, trees are inhabited by tree spirits. The Druids worshipped the great Oak – sacred groves were seen as living temples, from European Paganism to the Shinto faith in Japan. The Redcedar played a central role in American Indian ritual; the Banyan tree is revered in Hinduism, and the Bodhi tree held sacred in Buddhism, whilst the Hawthorn represents a potent symbol in Christianity. The Egyptian Book of The Dead mentions Sycamores as inhabiting the land where souls of the deceased go to rest.
It’s not hard to see why these massive, prehistoric plant forms, that evolved many millions of years ago, occupy a place deep in our psyche that’s intrinsic to our experience of what it is to be human. After all, our survival as a species has depended on trees. We fashioned tools and weapons from their branches, built homes and enclosures from their vast trunks and constructed transport for land and sea. Trees provided us with fuel for warmth, to cook our food with and to keep wild animals at bay, and with leaves to clothe us. Their nuts, seeds and fruits offered nutritious food and spices, and their flowers decoration for celebration and worship. Furthermore, trees have played, and continue to do so, an essential role in maintaining the very eco system on which we depend, producing oxygen, cleansing the air and countering global warming by acting as carbon sinks.
“If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice it’s knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.” Matthew Fox
Our relationship with trees goes deeper still. We identify with trees, something in them touches us at an emotional level. Grandeur, age and great beauty lend them a mystical presence. As a young, passionate artist in my twenties, the anthropomorphic qualities of trees held a fascination for me. I saw in their sinuous trunks and outstretched limbs, a mirroring of the deep yearning of the human soul and spent many hours engrossed in drawing their graceful, often contorted forms. They embodied a special kind of magic for me, and they still do.
Of course, our connection with trees sits mostly in our subconscious. Their longevity and endurance engenders trust that these same qualities exist within us. The substantial steadiness of a tree’s trunk prompts us to connect with our own core steadiness, whilst the reaching-for-the skies of its tallest branches, stirs in us our highest aspirations. They represent the natural embodiment of transmutation through their process of photosynthesis and the passing of the seasons, which nurtures our belief that we, ourselves will be able to transcend the challenges life presents and transform our dreams into reality.
“The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow enduring force straining to win the sky” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
My experience as a guided meditation facilitator has told me there’s something even more fundamental about our relationship with trees. The duality in the habit of a tree speaks to a duality in our own nature. These giants of plant life bridge polarities: the ground below with the sky above; the solid with the ephemeral; what is manifest with what is yet to be realised. As humans, perhaps our primary challenge is to maintain a balance of mind and body in the dance between what actually exists in the physical world and what we imagine or how we perceive it to be.
The tree as a metaphor for bridging different worlds exists as an archetype in ancient mythologies and religions as the ‘World Tree’, the ‘Tree of Life’ or the ‘Cosmic Tree’, where a great tree holds the cosmos, linking the heavens, the earth and the underworld. It is found in Norse mythology, Siberian culture and the indigenous culture of the Americas, as well as the mythology of Pre-Islamic Iran and ancient Egypt.
The spiritual disciplines of meditation, yoga, tai chi and qui gong teach us the value of being grounded in the physical world whilst being sufficiently open mentally and spiritually to be able to grow and flourish. Like a tree, it is necessary for us to be well rooted in order to manifest the fruits of our mind, otherwise ideas end up as just that – ideas.
“Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky” – Kahlil Gibran
In the Hindu Chakra system, trees and humans share the same names for their lowermost and uppermost reaches: the ‘Root’ and the ‘Crown’. Through our Root chakra, (situated at the base of our spine), we ground ourselves and own our place in the physical world, and through the Crown chakra, (situated at the top of our head), we open to spiritual consciousness and a deeper understanding of all that is.
Here’s a simple meditation that links these two major ‘subtle energy’ centres. It can act as a powerful pick-me-up and need only take five minutes or less:
Meditation linking the Root with the Crown
Stand or sit comfortably, both feet flat on the ground (this meditation can also be done lying down)
Become aware of the ebb and flow of your breath, allow it slow
Feel the surface beneath your body, let it take your weight
Take your awareness to your Root Chakra at your sitting bone,(coccyx) just under the base of your spine
Breathe into your Root, allowing it to soften and open
When you are ready, take your awareness up to your Crown chakra at the top of your head
Breathe into your Crown, allowing it to soften and open
Feel the subtle draw upwards towards the sky through your crown, and the subtle draw downwards towards the ground through your Root
Now Imagine/sense you are allowing your Crown to receive a gentle, yet powerful beam of life force energy (you can imagine this as a beam of pure white light if you like)
Allow the beam of energy to flow through your crown, down the centre of your body to your Root and into the ground below
Feel the beam of energy connecting you to the different energies of Ground and Sky
Allow the beam of energy to clear, cleanse and nourish you.
When you are ready, let the beam of energy/light go and come back to the ebb and flow of your breath
Feel the support beneath you
Draw the meditation to a close
Trees are woven into our physical, emotional, creative, psychological and spiritual lives. The next time you pass a tree, touch it and pause a moment to enjoy its company. As you stand together under the same sky, sense the energy of this extraordinary, primeval organism, and allow yourself to wonder that you both share the same life force energy. Be inspired – go and plant one yourself!
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
© Linda Hall March 2016