Trees are an ever-present, but sometimes unnoticed, feature of our environment. We know we need them for survival, but we also need for them for their wisdom. Paying attention to trees, and all they offer us on many levels, can inspire us as we learn to see how they can be a source of gratitude, insight and hope for us.
In all cultures, trees are a powerful symbol – and they are often a symbol of wisdom. Particular trees are often regarded as sacred. Trees are understood to be powerfully connected to our means of survival as well as holding other significance in the human story.
The Many Parts of a Tree
We looked at a collection of tree things such as seeds, leave, branches, wooden items, flowers, buds and bark. We chose something that caught our attention and noticed its features. We thought about what it ‘said’ to us personally and shared some ideas about this. We noticed the potential of seed pods about to burst, the tiny signs of life inside gumnuts, the thickness of bark, the beauty of buds and flowers, the growth of leaves on branches. We began to see that there are ways to connect our human experiences to the living stories of trees.
We also shared experiences and facts about trees. Many of us have happy childhood memories of climbing trees, being in tree houses or playing amongst trees. We also thought about the facts that can be metaphors for us – the ways trees grow in different conditions, the ways trees communicate, the places where trees survive and thrive. We thought about the truth that just as a tree is innately itself, growing from the particular kind of seed it was, so we are called to be uniquely ourselves. A casuarina seed isn’t going to become an acacia tree – and likewise our growth journey is to become truly who we are.
The Exchange of Air
In a constant exchange, trees breathe out what we breathe in, and we breathe in what trees breathe out. Remembering to focus on our breath, to be silent with this, is an important contemplative practice.
We read Michael Leunig’s prayer-poem and spent a few minutes looking at particular trees outside, noticing our own breath and reflecting on this constant exchange.
To explore more deeply the metaphor of the tree, we spent some time alone with these questions…
We approached these questions in seemingly different ways, but through shared conversation discovered many common themes. The questions helped us to pay attention to our lives from new perspectives… As well as breathing in and out air, perhaps we also try to breathe positivity in and negativity out or breathe in and out the same things such as encouragement – something we need to both give and receive.
We are all planted in literal places such as a home, workplace, particular society and so on. These contexts affect us in many ways such as how we feel, decisions we make, our sense of freedom or pressure and how we can shape our days.
Tree branches may fall off naturally or be deliberately cut off. We too need to let things go, so as to grow. Sometimes this is a gentle, natural feeling process but often times it is harder and we need help with the process.
As a tree is nourished from deep under the ground, we could see that we too need to be nourished deeply by the things that help us grow, that we find life-giving, that lift our spirits and bring us joy and hope. Further insights can be gained through reflecting on these tree questions.
Advice from a Tree
Amusing puns? Nutritional advice? Stating the obvious facts?
Or some wisdom beneath the surface?
We talked about these statements of advice and what they could mean at different levels…what they might inspire in us…encourage in us…challenge in us… What do they have to say about living life well?
Communal Art Work
Collaboratively we drew a tree,
adding tree features and imaginative images,
to express something of our shared experiences
at this gathering.
Such a creative artwork
encouraged the playful expression
of what a tree could express,
both literally and metaphorically,
for each of us.