A tree’s roots and branches spread wide, laying a circular network around the bole. The tree lives at both ends. The trunk and leaves reach up to the light and air, while the roots stretch down to earth and water. The roots are essential. Leaves and branches fall, and the trunk may be severed; but if the roots are not destroyed there is hope of continuing life. The power is in the roots, the symbol of life. In the same way we need to put down deep roots while at the same time reaching up to the light.
Sister Philippa Edwards of Stanbrook Abbey once sent me this poem by Christopher Logue:
Come to the edge
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.
Sometimes in life it takes another person to give us the push we need; but more often it is up to us. Ultimately, if we are to grow and fulfil our destiny, we have to take such leaps of faith. Occasionally one comes a cropper! But even from that we can learn.
There are many maxims relating to trees that are worth reflecting on:
What is well rooted survives.
As the twig bends so the tree will grow.
Severed branches grow again.
The whole tree is hidden in the acorn.
Every tree is known by its fruit.
A rotten tree bears rotten fruit.
Trees are full of secrets.
A tree’s rootedness points to our rootlessness.
It was seated in meditation under the of a pipal fig tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. And there is Jesus’ story about the tiny mustard seed which when planted grows into a great tree, so that birds perch in its branches. Perhaps it was this image which prompted some words to come to me once in a meditation, and which I asked the calligrapher John Rowlands-Pritchard to make into a card – now on display at the Bleddfa Centre:
A Tree Being Motionless Birds Come To It.
For some fifty years I lived in an attic flat in London, way above the tree tops. It had a roof-balcony and in the summer I would often sleep out there, gazing at the great scattering of stars, the movement of clouds and the changing patterns of the moon. Then, very early in the morning, I would wake to the sight and sound of a flock of birds winging their way across the vast expanse of the sky.
How few of us these days look at the night sky or watch the sun rise! In cities especially, people seem so busy with their mobiles and iPads that they fail to notice the gardens, trees and blossom as they pass. And while we may occasionally take long walks, how often do we sit on a bench for fifteen minutes or so, just being very still and aware of life around us – of the trees putting down their roots into the earth and reaching with their branches up towards the light. Sitting still, birds may come close, or a stray dog suddenly present itself, reminding us that we need to relate to animals. We are surrounded by such riches and yet we are so rarely aware of them. If only we could make more time to ‘see’, and to practise Open Eyed Meditation.
Meditation is a door opening onto unknown possibilities. We have but to sit still and wait, there at the threshold. There is nothing we can do, no challenge we can make such as ‘Who’s there?’ We simply sit in stillness and quietness, breathing in the very sense of now-ness, knowing that beyond is a vastness of Love and Knowledge awaiting us. It is a gift and will be given to us when we are ready. The nowness is all.
The other day I came across an entry in my journal, dated 4 January 1973:
One is alone, and in the end one must go into that inner room, close the door, and face the four reflecting walls that speak back to one. Is the sin against the Holy Spirit that of the individual who refuses to grow, to accept reality and the possibility of change?
In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden, little Mary, the orphan, asks her guardian if she may have a piece of earth. ‘A piece of earth?’ he queries; and she answers, ‘To plant things in, to make them grow.’ To which he replies, ‘Child, when you see a piece of earth, take it and make it come alive!’ And that is exactly what Mary, aided by Dickon and Colin, does. When they find the secret garden, they weed it and plant it. Then what do they do? They sit cross-legged and meditate!
As Rumi, the Sufi mystic, wrote:
It is when we nurture the seeds of meditation in our own inner garden that we begin to come alive at a deeper level than that of mere happiness. Happiness is elusive, it comes and goes. What grows and becomes evergreen in our innermost garden is contentment.
Joseph Campbell wrote: ‘We have only to know and trust and the ageless guardians will appear.’
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote: ‘Spiritual masters always hear us and guide us from the moment of birth throughout our lives to the threshold of death. There are many teachers.’
Carl Jung wrote: ‘In each of us there is another we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves. In the last analysis most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.’
When asked for his blessing, Padre Pio would say: ‘May the angel of the Lord be with you and open doors for you!’
For someone starting to meditate it can be helpful to have a mantra (a particular sacred word or phrase) to repeat rhythmically, or else to count the breaths up to eight and then start again. But there will come a time when all that is needed is to sit quietly at the threshold of silence, gently breathing in and out, not attempting to cross the threshold or imagine what lies beyond, but simply waiting. Into that silence, from time to time, may come certain insights which arise from a deep source of wisdom within us. Such insights, when they come, are the fruits of meditation.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
These old rhymes which children used to chant contain much wisdom and practicality. If we’re aloof and prone to judging other people from a position of apparent superiority the time will come when we will get our come-uppance and have a big fall!
This is something that we also learn frequently in meditation. We endeavour to be concentrated and still, but every now and then we come a cropper. Our concentration falters, our minds go off at a tangent, our back aches … But all this can be very good for us. It reminds us that we are all beginners, that it is a long journey, and that we shall fall many times. It helps to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.