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.
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.
Such are the times we live in that we all seem to want instant results and are impatient if we are kept waiting. We need to learn from Nature, just by sitting in a garden, or a park, or in open country. It is easy to meet with our friends on a bench in a park rather than in a noisy restaurant. Nature follows the seasons, and perhaps the one season from which we can learn most is winter, when everything seems dead. Yet we know that, deep underground, roots are at work, the sap is slowly rising, and when the moment of Spring comes the trees will put forth fresh leaves and the flowers will blossom. As with life, so also in our practice of meditation, we learn to be patient.
Sometimes, rather than following the breath or saying our mantra, it is enough to sit quietly with gently open eyes. This is best done in a garden or a place where there are trees and plants. If there is water around so much the better. At first there may be nothing but a babble of internal trivia. We can’t control it but simply have to wait until all the mental mud settles and the pool of the mind becomes clear. ‘Launch into the deep’, says one writer, ‘and you shall see.’ The secret of seeing is a pearl of great price.
At intervals in life it is important to do what Robert Frost described as ‘taking time out for re-assembly’. A visit to the country can often be nourishing to the spirit, for Nature is in itself deeply healing. Taking long walks and eating quietly on one’s own are also beneficial. It can help to make a note of whatever significant dreams occur during such a period of retreat (making sure to write them down at once before they vanish.) We must not try to solve them like crossword puzzles; but, rather, take them with us for long walks and reflect on what each is trying to tell, for such significant dreams come from a very deep part within us where all wisdom is stored. And for all couples occasional times of withdrawal can be crucially important. As Khalil Gibran wrote of marriage, ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness.’