The Magical Mystery of Trees

As nature reawakens in spring I find myself awed and energized as I feel the frequency this wondrous transformation produces. Here in North Carolina the redbud tree with its lavender flowers heralds the arrival of the season, followed soon after by the white petals of the dogwood. As these two woodland companions brighten the landscape, I perceive a magical energy beginning to stir.

Most of us are so accustomed to seeing trees that we take them for granted. Often we forget they are fundamental to our life on Earth: They act as our planet's lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and returning to us life-giving oxygen. Trees provide us with food, raw materials for our homes, heating, shade in the summer, warmth in winter — and they beautify our environments year-round.

Trees are allies and a continuous reminder of the richness and power that the living library of nature holds. In this day and age, however, we have forgotten our bond with these powerful entities because our current way of living is not designed to help nurture or revive this connection.

Our ancestors were intimately connected to the landscape; they revered nature and noted the seasonal changes and intuitively knew that everything held its own magical meaning, especially trees. They approached trees with respect because they knew these entities — who resided in the underworld, the earth and the heavens simultaneously — were endowed with their own form of consciousness. Trees are the longest-lived and largest plant form on Earth, and through history have been acknowledged as symbols of power, wisdom, fertility, and life.

The famous Biblical stories of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge are two archetypal views of the tree, which can be found in mythical traditions and spiritual teachings from cultures the world over. Ancient people believed trees to be infused with an abundance of divine creative energy that could be consciously harnessed by the adept, allowing access to other states of being. Thus, groves of trees were revered in many ancient civilizations, considered a place of reflection where quiet encounters with supernatural forces and beings could take place. Trees growing in rings were used by the Celts as sites for their rituals and ceremonies. Cultures in Asia and Australia regarded trees as mythical ancestors frozen into a vegetable form, believing one could tap into their wisdom.

Over time, different species of trees acquired culture-specific significance. To Buddhists the bodhi, or fig-tree, is considered a symbol of enlightenment, as it was under this type of tree that the Buddha had his spiritual awakening.

The great cedars of Lebanon, prized for their durability, were said to be used by King Solomon in the construction of the great Temple in Jerusalem. The oracular priestesses in Delphi chewed leaves of the laurel tree before opening their minds to receive cosmic wisdom. And the mighty oak, a symbol of immortality and endurance, was revered by the Druids, who ate its acorns before making prophecies.

In my life I have experienced memorable encounters with a variety of trees. However, the best tree story I know involves a dear friend named Henry, who passed from this life several years ago. Henry was a wise, caring, and colorful character who over the years helped many people with their spiritual awakening. With a sweet grin on his face he would often remark, "When it's time for me to leave this world, I'm going to slip out of my body just like I'm slipping out of my jacket."

As Henry said this, he would dramatize his statement by removing his jacket in an effortless, fluid fashion, holding it up, and then gracefully dropping it to the floor. One fall day, Henry who was in his 80's, and in good health, was out delivering telephone books. As I was later told, at some point he sat down under a tree to rest and for Henry that was the end of this reality — he quietly slipped away. When they found Henry, he was leaning up against the tree's trunk, a smile on his face. It seems when his time came, Henry intuitively used a tree to transcend this reality.

Recalling stories such as Henry's and my own tree memories makes me wonder: What will have to happen before our culture is able to rekindle its connection to these majestic entities? Perhaps, as our lives go faster and faster, and we are more easily thrown off-center, we will realize that an antidote to the madness of life can be a visit to the woods; where a few hours spent in the company of trees, or a special tree, can bring a rich harvest of inner discoveries and understanding.

When I take a walk in nature I allow myself to be led to a tree and I send an inner greeting to show my respect and appreciation. As I approach the trunk of the tree, I sometimes sit facing it, or I get close and lean against it. I relax, breath deep, and calm my mind, allowing myself to become one with the tree. At times, in the deep silence, I quickly become aware of how fully alive and powerfully present the tree is, and I feel an all-encompassing connection to the web of existence. As I have come to know, appreciate and revel the mysteries of a tree, I have in turn developed a closer connection to the mysteries within myself.

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