In a technology-oriented world we live today, we rarely get the opportunity to have an intimate and deep connection with the natural world and learn from it. This practice of standing in front of and interacting with a single tree, will help us cultivate the sensitivities and attunement to a living being. And we can find a tree even in an urban environment.
1) Be Called to a Tree
Instead of picking a tree in our mind before the practice, notice where you are standing in your environment, tune into the body first, and sense if there is a tree at and its energy at this moment that you find interesting to connect with. Follow your curiosity and felt sense.
2) Take in the Whole Tree from Afar
As you approach the tree from afar, take in the whole tree from a distance first. Take in the height, the shape, and how this tree fits into the its environment as whole.
3) Sense the Tree Upclose
Feel into the environment of the tree as it has a whole mini-ecosystem. It requires us to perceive with all our senses. Feel any moss or ferns that may be living on the tree. The birds on the tree tops. The insects around. The family and network of living things on this one tree.
Be aware that we are visiting the homes of the animals. Be careful not to instill fear in them as often we are perceived as the predators.
- Seeing: Slow approach the tree and look at the tree from root to canopy. Shunryu Suzuki said, “As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw.” Try to look at the tree as shape, texture, colors without intellectual explanations. Play with open and close eyes and see how the sight may influence how we sense the tree.
- Smell: Can you smell the scents of barks and leaves? What does this tree smell like?
- Hearing/Sounds: What do you hear standing in front of this tree? Bird songs? Leave rustling?
- Touch: Touch different parts of the tree – roots, barks, leaves. Close our eyes and rub against face, skin, and hands. Can you feel the roughness of the barks – what the tree went through to survive? This particular sense helps go from the concept of a tree to connecting to the tree. Notice the moment you touch the tree, did anything shift inside your body? What sensations arise?
4) Interact with the Tree – sit, hug, lying down. Feel the energy exchange.
When you finish taking in the tree upclose, you can feel into the body When you finish taking in the tree upclose, you can feel into the body and sense how you may want to interact with the tree, or how it may want you to be with it. Perhaps you want to ask for support from it. Perhaps you want to ask it a question. Perhaps you want to dialogue with it. Perhaps you simply want to lean against the tree and rest. Listen to your body and let it guide you.
Ask for Permission
In the indigenous practice, everything is a living being and as such, you need to ask permission before you interact with it. Just as you won’t go up to a stranger and hug the stranger without permission, you first need to introduce yourself to a tree. State your name and your purpose of visiting the tree. This can be done out loud or silently. It’s more about an energetic exchange. Get a felt sense if the tree is okay with you interacting with it. If yes, then go ahead. If not, say thanks and gently turn your attention to another tree.
Based on your felt sense, you may want to lean your back against the tree trunk and feel a sense of support. You may want to hug the tree. You can sit at the roots. You can lie down and rest your heads on the roots or between the roots and look up the canopy. Feel if there’s a sense of exchange between you and tree.
5) Stay a Little Longer
You might be compelled to move on, but stay. See how the full connections develop. Notice the quality of impatience, resistance, or boredom . Feel whatever is arising, take a breath, and resume this meditation.
At the end of spending time with the tree, express your gratitude to the tree by giving it some water or a bow or any kind of gesture (verbally or nonverbally) that allows you to show your thanks for its support.
Quality of a Beginner’s Mind
One helpful quality to bring into this practice is the beginner’s mind – a sense of curiosity and openness. If you are a one-year old child seeing a tree for the first time, what would you see? How would you interact and connect with it?
Can we go through this practice without a preconceived notion of what this may feel like? There is no right or wrong experience, but just be with what arise.
This whole practice takes about 20 minutes. May a tree bless you and sustain you.
Source: This practice is largely based on the book Awake in the Wild by Mark Coleman.