Monday 15 November 2021

Be Like a Tree

This was something the Masters told me during the first year they spoke to me. It sounds profound yet simple but, to be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what they meant at the time. In the context of my life then I understood them to be telling me that I should learn to be unmoved by the vicissitudes of emotion and stay grounded but I suspected there might be more because the Masters' words were often capable of interpretation on several levels. For example, a tree has a strong trunk with green leaves at the tips so it is both solid and delicate, firm and still at the centre but responsive and moving at its edges, a good example for the spiritual aspirant who must be centred in the unmoved Mover but able to respond to those around him. A tree gives (fruit, flowers, wood, oxygen) while seeming to ask little for itself. It stands tall but does not bend. It remains unbowed in the most difficult of circumstances. Its roots go deep down into the soil, the underground even, while its branches extend to the heavens. In fact, it could be said to unite heaven and earth which is just what many mythologies have said it does do as the axis mundi. Then we have the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment, even the Tree on which Christ was crucified. The whole of manifestation is sometimes seen as a tree. It is the most profound of symbols.

But setting aside all that, I would like to consider the tree in a different aspect here, as a pattern for spiritual development. It is this aspect that I believe the Masters were referring to. One can certainly take the injunction in that respect.

So, how does the tree work in this way? To begin with, it is not the Tower of Babel. There are many schools of esoteric and mystical practice, in East and West, that try to reach God by building a tower to heaven. These have evolved a whole host of methods and techniques in the attempt to do this. It could be a form of yoga or mantras or particular meditations or work on the body or an elaborate metaphysical system or even, and most crudely, drugs and sex. These all have their effects on consciousness but they do not bring true spiritual awareness and they do not do so because they are attempts to take heaven by force. In effect, to steal from God. They are man trying to gain the fruits of the spiritual on his own terms rather than God's, and they will all eventually suffer the fate of the Tower of Babel, if not in this life then later.

The path to true spiritual understanding and being is through growing not building. It should be a natural process that comes from within rather than being imposed from without and, in this context, all that comes from the mind is deemed the without because the thinking mind is external to spirit. That does not mean that growth cannot be encouraged. It should be, but it should not be forced for then it will be artificial and therefore false.

Be like a tree means approach the spiritual path in an entirely natural way, always aspiring upwards but letting growth come from within and not trying to induce it by mechanical means. For one thing, this ensures that the motive is right, that it comes from love of God and not egotistic desire that seeks to gain the rewards of spirituality, power, consciousness, whatever, without being worthy of them. There are certain techniques that have been developed that may well bring results of a sort but, as Valentin Tomberg points out in his letter on the Tarot card the Tower of Destruction, those who build a tower in the attempt to gain heaven will eventually find it struck by a thunderbolt. This means that they will sooner or later be brought back down to earth. The results of their seeking the spirit by building rather than growing will not last. The path to God cannot be built by man and, when all is said and done, true spirituality only comes through grace. 

Grace is a concept that is much lacking in a lot of contemporary spirituality because a lot of contemporary spirituality dispenses with God who is the source of grace. But the entrance to Heaven is only gained by means of grace, and grace is only given to those who grow like trees not to those who build towers.


lea said...

Have to let this one sink in a little bit further but i do have a question; 'The tree of life' opens up mentioning a distinction between 'the path of nature' and 'the path of grace'. This feels like a false dichotomy to me, but maybe i missed the point of the movie, alas.

William Wildblood said...

I'm not sure about the movie which I have seen but don't remember but there is no real dichotomy between nature and grace. They are of different orders of being but grace perfects nature, it doesn't destroy it. Just as Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets.

Isbe said...

Thank you, William for this. I’ve often had similar thoughts on trees but could not express them as articulately as you have. One other interesting point about them is this:

“Two decades ago, while researching her doctoral thesis, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil — in other words, she found, they “talk” to each other. Since then, Simard, now at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered further research into how trees converse, including how these fungal filigrees help trees send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die.”

So, it would appear that in addition to all you have spoken about they also care for each other.

William Wildblood said...

That's interesting. I'm sure there are many more things we can learn from trees if we enter into sympathy with them.

Anonymous said...

Only last night I had a meditative experience, something that I have never been interested in and is more akin to prayer through grace. I had even dreamt of waking where I slept to attend to the small mice I had not wished to crush though they come near for warmth.

I merely sat in my truck, legs folded, hands folded, and head upright. I began a search, as attentive at catching fish, for the slightest realization of body. The nerves of my limbs extending outward were felt by this mere realization, of all their awaiting possibility or potential yet remaining still. The hands remaining folded and still containing within them life, unprompted, stillness remaining. For their life's work, I could center my senses upon them as things that may be creative. The center of myself is in my breathing. As corny as it sounds the first distraction of my mind was the image of a flower. I stopped then.

Several years back a few members of the native tribes of America had called me by the name Tree. I am abashedly flattered.

William Wildblood said...

Your experience does sound as though you really were being like a tree, just feeling the life force course through you without resistance.

No Longer Reading said...

Good post. You have shown the richness of the tree metaphor.