How sublime is the tree, the simple tree.
Looking out at the landscape on this New Year’s Day, I found myself looking right through the bare trees, avoiding really seeing them, perhaps disregarding them for eliciting gloom, dreariness and death.
But these cold and bleak-looking figures convinced me that they are worth a few moments of deeper consideration.
Bending one knee as I raised my foot along my inner leg and turned that hip out to fall in line laterally with my pelvis, I planted the sole of my foot deeply into the flesh of my standing leg’s inner thigh, braced my core and brought my hands to heart center as I began my contemplation in tree pose.
We so easily see things at their surface level.
The superficial aspects of things perpetually confront us and reinforce our eager minds to be lazy and go along with a quick impression. Summer’s green, lush, leafy foliage is seen as beautiful; winter’s wiry, grey, tangled mass of bare branches is often seen as dreary.
We understand the tree is dormant and that spring lies around the corner. Soon, our anticipation of a better time ahead will be rewarded by the reemergence of the life form we love. But, if we pause to understand there actually is nothing but the present moment in time, since past and future can only exist in our minds (as memory or anticipation), we are forced to consider that all beauty must be in this moment. The tree deserves to be appreciated as much in its state of dormancy as it is when it is oozing with life.
I began to look at dormancy with a renewed perspective as it relates to all that exists in nature. It can be instructive to take time to consider the tree’s roots—the all-important infrastructure hidden from our gaze.
Mother Earth allows for the growth of a seed by offering nurturing sustenance and an anchor for its physical structure, releasing the latent potential the seed holds within. The soil is fortified through the degradation of organic matter that returns to the very place from which it had once risen. Supported by a generous trunk that acts as a bridge to the radiating limbs, this ultimate expression of growth appears without restraint.
Year after year, limbs evolve into a vast network of branches, each yearning to reach for infinity where only the sun and stars rule. Upward reaching action is part of the DNA of the tree, as it operates un-self-consciously to continue its growth.
What insights can we gain from this exploration of the raw simplicity of nature?
The subterranean root system and expansive branch network mirror our own gender ideals of feminine and masculine, and both are required to complete the whole. The root system’s subtle and cool aspect that works quietly beneath the visual dimension is driven to nurture and thus suggests our feminine aspect.
In addition, the earth can be seen as a vast repository of all of history that has absorbed—both energetically and physically—the cultural, social and spiritual essence of past generations. All that has sprung forth from this earth ultimately return to fortify the soil. Boundless energy is required to press through and around obstacles and beyond constraints, in order to push harder and assert itself. This force of nature lends its imagery to the masculine quality innate even within this feminine aspect.
The branching network beautifully lends itself to the outward driven masculine, hunter mode of pursuit in the effort of breaking barriers with which has enabled our species to soar in search of our human cultural evolution. Whether sailing the oceans to reach unknown lands, breaking the sound barrier to travel at previously inconceivable speeds or walking on the moon, the will of humankind has been unhampered by voices of constraint.
We can consider within this context, as we look at the nakedness of winter branches, waiting patiently and without spectacle, the aspect of the feminine that innately understands the futility of wasting precious effort attempting to surge ahead in a hostile environment, at a time when the system is better geared to gathering its strength and cultivating its resilience. This quiet and still state, as with the hibernating beasts of the forest, restores the energy within and is essential to facilitate the forthcoming burst of energy.
The tree cannot exist in isolation; it remains part of the universal ecosystem that supports and supplies all its needs. Nature’s resources such as sunlight and water, and the nutrients absorbed from the soil are all assimilated, each element becoming part of the tree. Once part of the whole, the integration is complete. Neither water, nor sunlight, nor nutrient can be separated from the tree itself. The masculine and feminine energies are united, existing in perfect harmony.
The quiet, restful and nourishing dimensions are as essential as the energetic, assertive, growth properties, and they operate interdependently to draw new energy from which to sustain yet another life cycle. As the cycle goes forward, it moves in concert with all cycles of nature; sunrise and sunset, tidal ebb and flow, planetary rotation within our solar system. All energies are obligated to their own rhythms even as they interweave their patterns in a vaster cosmic dance that takes place so seamlessly and perfectly, without error or omission.
How sublime is the tree, the simple tree.
To stand in simple tree pose now, I mirror that sublimity.
I stand here—complete, whole, inclusive and perfect—existing separately and yet interwoven with the patterns of every other being and all of nature. I am nurtured by the Earth and contain all its rich history, infused by the Mahat of all that ever has been known. I am reaching endlessly to fulfill a neverending potential, only limited by the stars. I only need reawaken this knowledge that already exists within.
Just like the drops of water and morsels of food that nourish us, we are inseparable from the atoms that are intrinsically a part of our physical being. We share a common past and have a singular destiny that is defined by that which ultimately sustains and integrates us all, far beyond mere physicality.
That common element that unites humanity is what we recognize as love, our original state of being that lives in the bridge between feeling securely anchored and free to reach our greatest heights. Love is what holds us together at the very core of our being.
For anyone unwilling or unable to hold tree pose, may I suggest at least getting out there and hugging a tree!
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Assistant Editor: Michelle Margaret
Photo: elephant archives