One of the common exercises given those working on their "spiritual journeys" is to go out in the woods and live with a tree for a few days. When anthropologist Michael Harner lived with a tribe of South American Indians, he reports that he "spent three or four days in the company of a tree," It was one of the most valuable experiences he had for learning about himself. Now, how on earth can "living with a tree" be useful psychologically and spiritually? Here are some practical possibilities.
First of all, a tree simultaneously lives in three different worlds. It is "rooted" in the earth, its trunk is on the top of the ground, and its branches are up in the sky. Would that more people could be grounded in, and appreciate their dependence upon, the earth for their support, for their nourishment, for their survival. People need "roots," a sense of belonging, a sense of being supported and provided for by the earth. It can help one feel very secure in the world to know they are always supported by, and fed by, the ground.
The trunk of a tree is the living channel for water, nutrients and chemicals to pass from its roots to the branches and leaves. How many of us are open, active channels for energy to come from our "rootedness" and freely give it to our "higher" selves? How many of us need to actively unblock the energy stored in our bodies and speed it to the higher centers of our brains in order to allow them to effectively and efficiently perform work? How many of us really live in touch with the natural world around us? How many of us are actually aware of, let alone really enjoy, our own inner processes?
And the leaves. They thrive only briefly within the life-span of a tree. They yield to the wind without breaking, without flying around, but attached to their source for flexibility and firmness. Could we learn from leaves that time is insignificant because our own lifetime in this world is but a blink of the eye. Could we learn to accept death just as we accept birth as a part of the total cycle of life? Could we learn to bend with the pressures of our external environment without breaking? Could we trust our attachment to a force greater than ourselves to help keep us firm in the awareness of being alive? Could we learn to enjoy our aliveness rather than worry about it?
Trees are not only examples of how to live within ourselves, they can also set examples for how to interact with others and our environment.
Trees naturally provide food for other living creatures. A tree can become a home and offer protection for animals, as well as people. It offers shade to cool those who are too warm and who take the time to rest beneath its branches. Trees convert carbon dioxide and other gasses poisonous to human life into oxygen, which is absolutely necessary for sustaining any life forms on this planet. When it dies, the tree becomes a fuel to keep the earth (as well as the users of fire) warm, cook our food and provide hypnotic delight with its flames. What would happen to war and "territoriality" if our lives naturally: provided sustenance for others; gave the homeless a protected place to live; cooled down the hot temperatures of the angry and hostile; transformed noxious and poisonous activity into an essential element for the life of the planet; and even after our death could impart warmth and usefulness in the hearts and lives of others?
The Buddhist scriptures tells us there are eight objections to living in a house: it is a lot of trouble to build; it must be kept in good repair; some nobleman [or government agency] might seize it; too many people may want to live in or visit it; it makes the body tender; it provides concealment for committing evil deeds; it causes pride of ownership; and it harbors lice and bugs.
There are 10 advantages, on the other hand, in residing under a tree: it can be found with ease; it can be found in any locality; the sight of falling leaves is a reminder of the impermanence of life; a tree arouses no covetous thoughts; it affords no opportunity for evil deeds; it is not received from any person; it is inhabited by good spirits; it needs no fence; it promotes health; it does not involve worldly attachments.
There are probably a whole lot more principles of living joyfully that we could learn from living with a tree for a while. Try it…you might like it.