Being Like Trees

Photograph by Aperture Village on Unsplash

In challenging times, we humans tend to fall back on our earliest and deepest understandings. We fall back on our earliest way of relating to the world, which is not in words, but through the body. We don’t usually think of the body as comprehending the ways of the universe. But the body knows things.

In a time of overwhelm or uncertainty, the proudest atheists may find themselves thinking: “Help me.” They may dismiss the idea of God for very sound scientific reasons. And yet in the midst of a crisis they still find themselves looking up at the sky and the trees, thinking, “Help me.” I think this gesture of reaching out is as old as humanity. The body knows we are more than we think we are.

In our Buddhist meditation group, we often speak of the practice of metta, or lovingkindness. But we also innately practice meta, a Greek word meaning “beyond.” This root creates the word “metaphysical.” Yet this impulse to reach beyond ourselves is not is very direct, very connected to life. We reach in two directions: inward, away from superficial distractions and outward, seeking to reconnect with life itself.

On Sunday, we discussed new research that reveals that trees are not isolated beings struggling for survival, as Darwin and others once thought. They live as members of vast interconnected communities, sharing nutrients and information across species. Some call this system the “wood wide web.”  Some beings in this system, especially big old trees fondly called “mother trees” give big. A few others, Black Walnuts and orchids among them, steal more than their share of resources or even spread toxins.

This week, if you wish, notice as we practice noticing our impact on the life around us, not just our words and actions but our presence, our thoughts. The Buddhist notion of emptiness is not a void or a nullity but a state fluidity and openness–interconnection or “interbeing,” as the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn calls it. But you don’t have to call it anything. Just notice how it feels to experience yourselves as part of an ecosystem, not stopping at the border of our own skin.

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees.” –Rilke

2 thoughts on “Being Like Trees

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