Yesterday, during a day long retreat with Mimi Kuo-Deemer, we talked a lot about wood and trees. With the invitation to go out at lunchtime and ask a tree what wisdom it had to share with us.
Now, I really want to be the kind of free spirit who can hug a tree without batting an eyelid, and not worry about anyone else batting an eyelid either. But a significant part of me, the British stiff upper lipped part, the part that really really really cares what other people think of me, just can't do it! Even the option of placing my third eye on the tree and pretending to be stretching my hamstrings was too far out of the box for me.
As a compromise I sat and looked at a tree, and contemplated what I might be able to learn from it. I looked at how strong it was, how even though I couldn't see its roots I knew they grew firm and deep. There was a solidity to it, it really took up space in the world, without apology. This idea of existence in of itself being justification for existence was profound.
I saw how the nobbles in the bark and the unevenness of its branches looked beautiful. No one judges an old tree because it doesn't have the smooth appearance of a new sapling! Far from it, we are often drawn to old trees because we appreciate their ancient roots, we love to know that for hundreds of years this tree has been in the world, that generations of people have seen this same tree. It has existed before us, and hopefully will far outlast us.
I saw the potential for new growth, even now with no leaves in this barren period it is just waiting until the right moment for new shoots to grow. This period of hibernation or rest during the winter months is a completely natural part of life. All too often we berate ourselves for not being able to just keep going ad infinitum, because we simply can't meet life's demands day in and day out. There is still a natural ebb and flow of life but it is becoming harder to follow. I believe a fallow period from time to time is a good thing. Building enough time to rest and recharge, or to react to the changes in environment (just as the tree reacts during winter) is absolutely vital or we can't blossom when the right time approaches.
But most of all I was absorbed with the idea of this beautiful tree's flexibility. It was strong not brittle, it grew around obstacles, and it bent with the wind. In my life, and in my yoga practice, I all too often lack flexibility - not the intense stretching kind of flexibility, I mean the ability to roll with the punches or adapt to the present moment. I am often fixed in my views and values, which can make it hard to accept new people and new ideas. And in my yoga practice I struggle to unlock my joints and release from rigidity. I struggled for a long time (and still often do) to embody the idea of 'yield, push and reach' which transforms my yoga practice from a series of static poses into a flowing moving meditation. This idea that I am stronger mentally and physically when I don't try to hold a rigid shape is uncomfortable for me. There is something scary about being fluid. But part of the joy of yoga is investigating new ways of thinking on the mat, and then taking them off the mat and into my life when they have sunk in.
So, while I am not a tree hugger yet, I am a tree contemplator. Just don't tell anyone :)