“If we could surrender to Earth’s intelligence, we would rise up rooted, like trees.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
When all else fails, sit down and be still as a tree. Even if everything is not failing, take time every day to let go of all of the stories that are constantly spinning to just sit down. This can feel very risky, even reckless. You may feel like Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights (aka The Thousand and One Nights) who spins stories to keep a hurt-driven sultan in a constant state of anticipation so that he will not kill her. You may feel as if you will die if you stop. You may feel as if you are in a live-action version of Rumpelstiltskin, as if you have a huge pile of straw to spin into gold before dawn or something horrible will happen to you. Still, stop.
Sitting down like this doesn’t mean acquiescing to injustice or cruelty or giving up on life. It means calming and steadying the body and mind so that you can receive energy, insight, and inspiration flowing in from a greater intelligence. Sit down in a noble posture, back straight and your head up, rise up and take root like a great tree.
As if you washed up on a beach after being pulled under and tumbled around by a giant wave, just be full of the experience of being alive in the most basic sense, in a body, breathing. Allow everything in the world to go on without your input, noticing that it happens anyway. In a state of complete, washed-up relaxation, it becomes clear that your body is not just a source of pleasure or pain or a flesh vehicle for carrying you from place to place. It is our connection to a greater life. Sitting down, you may discover that the stories we cling to can be a distraction. The real excitement—the real insights–come when you take root where you are.
Remember that the Buddha discovered the value of sitting down and abiding peacefully in the wake of a seemingly huge failure, at a point when it seemed that all his efforts had come to nothing. He found himself washed up on the beach of life, a heap of rags and bones on a river bank, split from his yogi brothers, almost dead from starvation and all the efforts that were supposed to bring liberation from the body and the problems that come with the body. Efforts that seemed to lead him nowhere.
Along came a young woman who offered him something to eat. Taking food from a woman was very forbidden to an ascetic but since he had given up he was open to receive this gift of life, this basic gesture of generosity. Receiving it, he was strengthened and he remembered the goodness of life. He sat under a tree, remembering another time long ago when he sat under a tree. He remembered what it was like to be a little boy, watching his father and other men from the village plowing the fields. He remembered the joy in solitude that children can have, just being still and relaxed and open, smelling the grass, feeling the breeze, not crushed by anxious or burdensome thoughts. He took this recollection with him to the Bodhi Tree. It became the platform of his enlightenment.
Nice story, you may be thinking. And yet when you dare to sit down and let go, you may just have these little blips of sensation, these tiny flashes of light, but mostly tension or pain or sadness. How is this supposed to knit itself into some kind of answer? How is this supposed to replace our words and reasons, the narratives that hold us with centrifugal force, like that ride at the county fair shaped like a huge tilting wheel. Patience. It helps by showing us that things aren’t as solid as they seem.
From the inside, a tree is not a tree but a changing system, drawing in sunlight, water and nutriments, blooming, peaking, letting go again. In the same way, you begin to see that you are not a fixed identity. You begin to see what you usually overlook or dismiss as trivial, that you are this pulsing, breathing receiving being who is going on being part of life even after failures and heartbreak and great loss.
The practice of sitting down and being is a little like being still and getting a bird or an animal to eat out of the palm of your hand. After a long time, one comes, then more come, more often. The tension gives way to sensation and these little blips of sensation, these micro bursts of vibrancy, these flashes of light, slowly remind you of the deeper goodness of being alive and part of it all. For moments at a time, you lose interest in self and gain an interest in life. You see that everything is always shifting and changing and it you see that this feel like magic, like being part of an amazing creation.
Usually we think of impermanence as sad, and it certainly can be, especially when we try to hold on to things that change. But when we let go, when we sit down and take root, we find life waiting to lift us up as we take root.
“The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong.” writes Sufi master and Parabola contributor Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. “The world is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. Until we go to the root of our image of separateness, there can be no healing. And the deepest part of our separateness from creation lies in our forgetfulness of its sacred nature, which is also our own sacred nature.”