I heard a story recently about trees. Specifically, it is about the characteristics and traits that we as humans share with trees. It is applicable to understanding ourselves and our students in a different way. We talk about “Being” a lot these days, but what does that really mean? This story aims to answer that question, and to illustrate the importance of allowing ourselves and our students to exist without judgment and to allow growth to happen naturally, which is what trees do.
How are we trees? What do we have in common with them? Don’t trees just sit there and not move? Do they think? Do they smell good or bad? Do they communicate? Have you seen a tree? Enjoyed it? Took a photo with it? Have you gone to the forest and breathed deeper than you do in the city? Have you felt the peace that accompanies a group of trees away from electricity?
Trees, my friends, are some of the most beautiful living things in existence. Trees have the ability to exist. They are just trees. They are also the most vulnerable of all beings in existence. We cut them, burn them, take their sap, spray them with chemicals, prune them, dig up their roots, and all other manner of destruction, but they still love us. They still grow. They still give us allure and shelter when we walk through the forest. They give off oxygen to help us breathe better. What amazing creatures!
I am a tree. I am proud to be one. I am. When you ask me who I am I say “I am this,” and I make a hand/ arm movement from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I stand tall with my feet planted in the ground and my spirit vibrating about my body.
I was not always a tall, confident tree. Once, I was a sick beaten tree. I had lots of traumatic experiences that stayed in my rings. In fact, they made my rings quite unpleasant. Trees have lots of rings. Some of them are clean and pure. Some of them are dirty and full of pain. I found out that I could clean my dirty rings. All I had to do was talk to myself. I told myself that it’s OK. It’s not my fault. Everything is fine. I forgave myself and I forgave those people who hurt me. To my amazement, each time I followed this process, I cleaned my ring. One by one, my rings were cleaned until I became a healthy tree.
This made me realize that I have a body, I have a mind, and I have emotions. When my rings are clean, my mind is calm, my emotions are peaceful, and my body is relaxed. But even though I am healthy I can sometimes get anxious about what will happen in the future. I look over the hill and I see some trees being cut down. Will that happen to me? What do they do to the trees who get cut down? I heard that sometimes they get used for firewood and burned until there is nothing left but ash. I also heard that they are processed mercilessly into paper and sometimes even flushed down into the sewer! These thoughts began to curse me. What if? What if it rains too much and my roots drown? What if a mole digs too close to my roots and I start to fall into the ground? What if I catch a disease and my bark starts to peel? These thoughts made me constantly worry about the future. This made my mind busy, my emotions sticky, and my body tense. It went like this for quite some time.
Eventually, as I was looking on the horizon at the other trees, which I thought may be destroyed at any moment, I saw a medium-sized black bear. The bear was just moving along as bears do, and then something became clear to me. That bear is just happy being a bear. That bear does not want anything that she cannot get herself. She is not worried about the future. She is not worried about the past. She just is. When I realized this simple truth, I began to stop worrying about what if. I began to stand tall.
Then I realized that every moment is the only moment. I grew tall from moment to moment. Every moment was the only moment! And the only moment there is is the moment I am in right now. I am here in this moment. I am free as a tree. Now I can grow. Being…
Joining the Tree Community
Then I realized that the other trees are not just trees. They feel the breeze. They make up tree communities. I said “I feel the breeze. I want to be part of their circle of ease.” So I started to talk with those around me. I started to listen. I appreciate them and accept them for who they are. We are growing together. If my friend “Tree Decree” is worried about his decrepit knee, I can help him and we can be together. I can teach the young trees to find manganese in the soil to nurture their leaves. I belong here. I am happy.
Yet sometimes I doubt that my tree-ness will allow me to do what I want in my life. Ah yes, the future again, and how It spins fears into my mind.
My mind is my own, but it is not me. Neither is my emotions nor my body. It is my tree-ness, my consciousness that gives me identity. My mind, emotions, and body are but tools for me to use to live and love and accomplish. But then I thought “If I don’t use my tools who is using them?”
There may be those trying to sell me soap who got me to think that without that soap, my bark would peel and fall without hope of ever growing again. This is a lie. But it is not my lie. It was brought to me with a piece of cherry pie. Sweet and wonderful, and horrible and false. My tools became the tools of someone else.
Then there was this person who manipulated me into thinking that I was filled with honeybees. Those honeybees would not leave me alone. I was sure I would become rotten from my branches to my bones. But then my friend Phil who is tall and full of wisdom told me there are no bees to fill you with cheese or make you dumb. Only your mind, which is so easily fooled, can do that.
I will not be so easily fooled again Mr. Phil. I believe in myself and will give boundaries to all those around who would manage me.
But that’s not enough. I also need to give boundaries to the thoughts that will try to manage me. Who am I? I am me. I am a tree. That is beautiful as afternoon tea.
The Little Trees
The little trees are here. They have many situations. Some of them do not smile. Some of them are hostile. Some of them have not eaten in awhile. Can they exist and move away from fear? Are they stuck in their ways, are they of good cheer?
What do we do with all of this style? Do we yell and complain about imperfect smiles? Do we run away from the little hostiles? Or do we welcome them with all of their glitches, all of their charms and all of their stitches? Can we let them be trees amidst all the pain, exhaustion, anxiety, and stains?
Young trees will grow, of that I am certain. They will have bark and rings that mature. Their branches will bear leaves and fruit in many cycles. I hope they can exist free of judgment, free to surrender to their natures. Free to transcend the tough situations. We can help them by giving them good, healthy rings when they’re with us. We can accept them and love them and allow them to exist.
This may just help us complete or continue or start our journey to freedom in our treedom.
By Jon Armitage