Life through the eyes of a tree: the heart

This is the first in a series of posts that tries to look at the world from the perspective of a tree.

To begin, I would like you to visualize the following. Go to a place in the forest that you feel closely connected to, and see yourself sitting there, with your back resting against a huge chestnut tree. It is autumn. Right in front of you, you notice one of its fruits, the prickly skin protecting the chestnuts from those that want to eat them before they are ripe.

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And you begin to wonder about that. Why the protective measures? Why does the tree not simply give away its fruits, but does feel the need to protect them?

And so you ask the tree if it will help you understand. In response, you feel your perspective changing, and it feels as if your body is slowly being absorbed inside the tree-body, and you become ‘the tree’. At first, that feels restrictive. You even panic slightly for a moment. What if you are not going to get out of here again? What if you are going to be a prisoner in here forever?

But then you relax. And slowly you begin to let go of your human senses, and you start to breathe with the tree. You listen to the sound of your heartbeat, and how it pumps the blood through your body. Relaxing further, you focus on that for a while.

As you do so, you feel your perspective expanding. You are walking around the forest again. Not in your human skin, but as a kind of expansion of the tree body. You see how you are attached to it through a kind of umbilical cord. And you realize that that cord does in no way restrict you, but instead, gives you freedom. For it takes care of all your material needs: as long as the tree is there, you are assured of nourishment, because the tree freely provides these for you.

Take some time to explore the forest from this new perspective. You are truly part of it now: for the tree not only shares its resources with you, but also its senses. Translated in a way you understand, that feels as if you have suddenly developed an ability for a kind telepathic communication: where before, the forest was a silent place, now it seems almost loud, as if multiple choirs are singing at the same time.

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It is hard to describe what it is exactly that you hear, and the word hearing isn’t exactly right either, for that would be a too one-dimensional way of describing it. For the ‘hearing’ that the tree provides you with, doesn’t happen with your ears alone, but engages all of your senses at the same time: you see it as a wave of colours, as an alphabet of perfume, interwoven with an ocean of sound. It is a language that is way more complex and rich than human language: it is as if every instant you engage with it, you receive treasure chests full of rich impressions, and whole stories download into your brain, instantly, complete with sounds, impressions, as if you were their protagonist.

As you walk through the forest, you realize that you are not simply visiting: in this moment, you ARE the forest.

Then you think back of what originally brought on this reverie, and you turn your attention back to where you came from, kneeling next to the tree to examine one of the chestnut burrs more closely. You admire the cosy little nest that they form around the seeds. You pick it up. And in that moment, you become it. Your mind links to the chestnuts, and you feel/hear/see the burr whisper to you in the colourful language of the forest: I will keep you safe until it is time for you to get born. I will pour all of my love into you, so that you get the best possible chance of survival.

And in that moment, you feel held and loved, not only by the burr, not only by the tree, but by the forest as a whole. You know that, whatever happens next, whether you manage to become a tree, or whether you become squirrel food, you are here, part of this family, part of this community. How you develop and where you end up growing roots will decide in which way you grow up, and what your experiences will be like, but you trust like you have never trusted before. You are part of the web of life. It breathes through you. And you are an immortal part of it.

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At that moment, you sense that it is time to go, and you feel yourself being sucked back into the tree, and then, after a few moments, find yourself back in your own body. And you hear the tree whisper ‘Did that answer your question?’

We are used to perceiving the world as human beings, locked into our own head, with our perspective limited to what our eyes can see, and where our legs can carry us. This visualization gives you a bit of a sense of just how limited that view is. For how can we know what the world is like when seen through senses that we do not possess ourselves? Next time you go to the forest, I invite you to try if you can repeat this exercise: go to a tree, and take time to introduce yourself: explain who you are, and what the world looks like for you. Then, ask if it would be willing to let you share in its perspective. If you receive a positive vibe, sit down with your back to the tree, close your eyes and let yourself be sucked in…

Where do we meet our gods?

There’s many a discussion whether Druidry is even a religion. Some say yes, some say no, for many different reasons. No, because ‘religion means dogma’, means ‘someone telling you what you are supposed to believe’, and so on. My personal definition of religion is an extremely simple one. I’d say it means ‘doing some kind of devotional practice that involves honoring the divine and its expressions in the world around us.’ By that definition, I would say that yes, Druidry is a religion. (Or at least, my Druidry is. )

So then, how to go about it: how do we come face to face with the divine, where do we  even find these gods? How about taking inspiration from our ancestors? When reading the old tales, it becomes obvious where to look. The same place as where people have been finding them from the beginning of time. In our interactions with the world around us.

Many of us came to Druidry (or paganism) to satisfy a deep yearning, hoping to find something that they felt was missing from their life. A desire to connect with what was sacred. A desire to find our center. A desire to reconnect with nature, and to find true community. 

A desire to making living our  life a sacred act again.

And that begins by standing still. Stopping to run away. Finally starting to listen to ourselves, and truly seeing the world around us.

Stop what you are doing for a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe. Become conscious of the miraculous fact that you are alive. Then listen. To each thought that wells up. It doesn’t matter what it is. Listen to it. Acknowledge it. Give it space to be. If you continue doing this – not just in this moment, but for days, for months, probably for years to come, you will at some point reach a moment of stillness, when your conscious mind has told you everything it desperately wants you to hear, right now. The stillness means that it is satisfied that you are at least trying to listen to it.

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Enjoy the open space of that stillness, and keep listening. Keep listening for the voices that are coming next. For these are the voices of the sacred. These are the whisperings of the world around us. The voices that are always trying to reach us, but which are mostly being drowned out by the noise and static in our head.

Who is speaking now? Don’t worry about that at first. Don’t worry if no words come either. For not all spirits speak with human voices. If you feel like dancing, then do so. If you feel a sudden urge to go down on all fours, sniffing the grass and enjoying its aroma’s, then do so. And note what you are doing. You are beginning to interact. Dancing is a conversation with your body, with the air around you, with the space you are in. Taking in the aroma’s of the grass means starting to listen with different senses.

Continue your acts of listening. Go to different places and listen at different times.

Do not worry if sometimes (or maybe often, depending on your life situation), here-and-now thoughts and worries seem to take precedence. The fact that they are there means that they need to be listened to. (And interact with them. If they keep emerging again and again, that may simply mean that you have been trying too hard to ignore their existence.) If they are actual cold-hard real life worries that cannot be resolved in the short run (or which are beyond your power to fix by yourself), then simply listen, acknowledge, do what you can, then dismiss them for the time being. This is not an exercise in running away from life. This is an exercise in starting to live it. That means doing what you can (important!!), but not being a slave of pointless worries.

Start using all your senses. Make a habit of being open for listening. That is the only way hear.

For this is where you will meet your gods. In starting to be in conversation with the world around you. In walking through the forest, and having a sudden emotion well up while touching that special tree that means so much to you. By looking up at the full moon, and feeling blessed by the power of its light seeming to illuminate the way forward, and that sudden urge to do something crazy. In that one line that suddenly jumps out in the middle of a song, carrying special meaning. In walking through the city and suddenly seeing rainbows everywhere.

You want to meet the gods? Then be prepared to actually hear their call. Out in the world is where you will hear their whispers, not in the dusty tomes of the library. You may want to read these later, when you eventually want to give a name to what you felt or what called out to you. But that will rarely be the first step.

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And maybe you will never feel the need to connect your experience to something as official as a deity with a pedigree and a fully fleshed out mythology. In the end, names are not what counts most. For even that soft whisper from a tree, or the caress of the moonlight is a meeting with the sacred. And that is where it all starts. The place of relationship and connection. Where names and status are ultimately of minor importance…

Tell me: how many of your friends did you meet by looking up random names in the phonebook? How many of them did you meet by going out in the world and starting a conversation? And did you start out with the intention of meeting a celebrity, or did you simply want to make friends? Which approach, do you think, will be the most successful one? Meeting the gods is, ultimately, not all that different.

I plan to write about some of my own personal encounters with deity and spirit in upcoming posts. But if you have stories of your own to share, I’d love to hear them!