I once had a friend whom I respected and admired. There was an aura of serenity about him that was imposing and real. He conveyed a message of balance and peace, through his eyes, through his demeanor, through his noble detachment that had a sedating quality with power and influence. In addition, a spiritual aura seemed to hover around his being that was impossible to contain in words. His sheer presence invited questions. I once asked him what element in nature he would like to be if he could be other than himself.
"I would like to be a tree," he modestly replied without hesitation, as if he has arrived at this conclusion after extensive reflection and lived with its insight daily. "Trees are noble and grand and have generosity of spirit. Their roots sink deep into the earth and run far afield. their resolute silence conveys an immortal quality that remembers a spirit world where living things never die. When I see a tree, it reminds me of what I wish to be."
Indeed, I thought, there is a primordial quality associated with a tree that conveys a special message to humans. When I see a tree, I experience a dimension of soul within its branches that not only remembers our own souls, but that forms a correspondence between the living tree and the living person that underscores the feeling of unity conveyed between humans and nature. The great inscrutable oaks and pines of the forest pour something of their mystery and magic into the human heart.
What we sense in the tree doesn’t come from an investigation of the senses. There is no sense faculty that can experience directly the unifying principle that enables the complex components of the genetic coding of the oak tree to produce an acorn, much less the six million leaves a big elm might produce in a single season without moving an inch. This same principle of unity sends down roots, raises the magnificent trunk, extends its many branches, sends forth leaves and fashions seeds, nuts and fruit, recalling a seeming unity of purpose and single mindfulness of intent that we observe in our own individual destinies, invoking a sense of the inner spontaneity and trans-material presence that allows us to gaze upon a tree and think that this symbolic image is not only alive but sentient and aware.
Trees are the silent sentinels of the earth. People are born, live and die, but trees watch over the earth through the millennia and contribute to the harmonies of the natural order with their calm and stately repose. Cultures may fade into oblivion and entire civilizations may crumble and die without disturbing their magnificent nobility and self containment. Barring accidents or the machinations of humankind, they give every appearance of being immortal. In order to die a natural death, a tree needs an abundance of time and nature holds no surprises for them that they cannot bear. Perhaps that is why the wanton destruction of the great forests of the world seems so evil and so unnatural. Some trees were in their prime when Christ walked the earth. No other thing in nature has looked down upon the passing of the centuries as these regal monarchs of the great primeval forests. The forests themselves are a remarkable study in self containment and splendor. The silence of a forest can be deafening; countless trees are gathered together as a forest unity in mute splendor, like some great magnificent spirit.
There is a message in a forest cathedral and its gathering of trees that speaks directly to our inner soul. Indeed, the heart song of the tree is never as plain as when it sings its message of nobility and endurance within the human breast. Small wonder then that my wise friend should relate to trees to the extent that he would want to be one himself, to be a tree among trees in a forest. There is something of the tree in all of us that we should nurture and help grow through pure thinking and honest endeavors. They have endurance and longevity; some of them are tens of centuries old and have taken 3,000 years to grow their rings. We can relate to trees because they are well rooted and stand tall, in memory of the vertical aspiration that exists within every person who yearns for the promises of Heaven including the immortal life that a tree so well emulates.
Trees make us better people; perhaps it is the tree in us. They radiate beauty and convey strength. They have qualities we wish to emulate, for they are wild in their natural setting and untamed in their manner of expression. They wave and sing to the wind and in their natural movements they bow and prostrate in praise of God. Their very existence is a form of worship and a testament to the presence of a conscious Reality. If we could describe the heart of the human in the same manner as we describe the heart of the forest, we would be enriched indeed and would never stray very far from the impulses of a pious person who maintains a consciousness of God through constant prayer and praise.
The heart of the forest inspires reverence and awe. It radiates its character of sublime wilderness and conveys its feeling of a wild inviolability to all who enter its confines. One walks softly and subdued within the general calm of its sublime depths as if in some vast hall that has been pervaded by the deepest sanctities and solemnities evidenced within Nature. Every tree seems to have a spiritual quality; every branch and leaf reaches upward towards the heavens as if to uphold the sky with the consciousness of God. These age old patriarchs never cease their worship and praise, but are forever conscious of the Divinity within the confines of their own sacred nature. Would that we could emulate the tree and exhibit the same unfailing integrity and fortitude in our own nature.
In walking through the grandeur of a forest wood, I feel myself shedding the turmoil of my days and observe the stately pines with the natural eye of the chip monk and the owl. The residue of some melancholy heartbreak has come and gone; the frustration and failure of my routine efforts no longer find firm ground; the anger, jealousy and other petty miseries that punctuate the days of a life disappear with some passing wind. The rays of light find their way through the branches and leaves to cast their warm glow onto the forest floor like a torch from heaven. Their photons have passed millions of miles to make their presence felt within the human mind. The trees of the forest stand tall and lend something of their calm, ennobling grace. Through their act of giving, they become a part of me and I become a part of them, a living, walking, breathing tree, a pillar of strength, standing tall, rooted to the earth but immortal because of a vision that leads us beyond the stars.