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Turning into Trees

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The rain poured down without cease, a thorough, all-embracing sound. I was ensconced in the shelter of a tarp I’d slung between two trees, its sides open above the leafy softness of the forest floor. My comfy sleeping bag lay over a ground sheet. I had about six by three feet of space in which to stay dry for a long wet day, spent on the side of a mountain in Vermont. I slept, I mused, I wrote. It was heaven.


Back when I attended church I had loved the words: “Since we are encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses…,” (Hebrews 12:1). It was comforting to think of this “communion of saints” cheering me on. For Yogis and Buddhists that supportive community is called the sangha. Pagans likewise have the circle, the grove, and the coven.


For me on that wet day, it was Nature that offered me refuge. Strong stands of maple and birch stood sentinel all around me. I felt soothed and solaced on the mountain’s breast:


And standing hills, long to remain

Share their short-lived comrade's pain.

—from “A Shropshire Lad,” A.E. Housman


As a Pagan, I have the privilege of feeling comforted and witnessed by Nature, acknowledging a relationship I’d felt as a child but couldn’t find words to express. In Yoga too there is a tradition of sensing Spirit in Nature, through an intense awareness of both bodily energy and the surrounding environment. Too often we look out at Nature with a narrow gaze, assessing and admiring. We forget that Nature also looks back at us —and can tell us who we are:


Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you 

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, 

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, 

Must ask permission to know it and be known. 

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, 

I have made this place around you…. 

Stand still. The forest knows where you are. 

You must let it find you.

—from “Travelling Light” by D. Waggoner


Whatever the forest thinks of me (and according to some recent science it does think, in a way) it is mysterious enough that it throws my own fears and doubts into irrelevancy. Standing in the woods or on the shore, I can step back from those insecurities into a part of myself that is closer to treeness, or oceanness or mountainness. Closer to Nature’s way of being: powerful, accepting, present. 


The world is vast, old, constant in its ceaseless round of change. The moon, the sun, the sea, the stars, the earth itself—they remain through everything, resting in a sea of infinity. This infinite horizon encircles but does not bind me. It offers both space and containment, freedom and a sense of being held. Nature’s existence stretches so far beyond my own that its beauty can stun me back to an awareness of its immensity, its capacity. And perhaps of my own as well.


“The cosmos is also within us. We’re made from star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to      know itself.” —Carl Sagan 


That I can sometimes more easily find refuge in the woods and mountains than among those of my own species speaks to the complications of human relationships. The trees do not judge me, but people might. Yet when we humans step back to the larger part of ourselves we can relate to each other in a new way. In the space of ritual, meditation or yoga practice, the barriers between us can fade away as we experience our more natural selves.  


When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight...whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees.—Ram Dass


In my meditation group, we are doing this very thing, I think: turning ourselves and each other into trees. We sit tall and silent and well rooted, like trees, and we pay attention to the sap of life flowing through us. We sit together with the shared aspiration to be present and open. And somehow, when the bell sounds and the meditation ends, we open our eyes to find we are so much more beautiful to each other. At that moment I know I am surrounded and supported by a forest of fellow beings, and I am grateful.


I take refuge in them and in the the beauty of the world. I remember what I am.



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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
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  • Tyger
    Tyger Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    Lovely. Thank you.

  • Archer
    Archer Tuesday, 28 August 2018

    Thank you, Tyger, for reading.

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