Today they are cutting down some trees on the farm in order to build a new road. One of them was already dead, but the others were very much alive. Because I do not own the farm, I am not in control of what happens here. That fact, in and of itself, is a wonderful lesson.
Early this morning I had an ultrasound to check up on some stomach discomfort I have been experiencing lately. After the exam with the requisite full bladder, my reward was a trip to the bathroom to relieve the pressure. As I entered the bathroom, I looked out the window. The view was of a brick building with a tree beside it, its new light green leaves promising more spring to come. I was overcome with an immediate feeling of warmth and comfort.
I have been finding comfort in the presence of trees for many years. Whether looking out from the windows of houses, buses, ferries or classrooms; or walking beside them in the forest or on quiet country roads, trees have been my most stalwart source of grounding and sustenance.
I can recall trees I have named, such as the towering Maple I called Mabel, who lived in the yard outside the house on West 43rd avenue. She was my constant companion for 3 1/2 years. I would stare out at her through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room as I wrote, danced, cried and healed in the early 90’s.
Then there are those trees which I have oohed and aahed over, whether inspired by the flowering ecstasis of Magnolias, the evergreen grace of Cedars, or the slow erotic undressing of the Arbutus-Madrona.
A few years ago I purchased a new leather-bound journal cover. Until then I had always eagerly anticipated the finishing of a journal, because it meant I could revel in the search for the next one. Even weeks before the last word was written inside, I would start to wonder after its colour, size, and type of pages, whether lined or not. (I’ve been known to finish some journals in a day or two while others can last a few weeks to several months.)
This new journal cover only fits one kind of black hard-covered journal. Now as soon as I finish one, I know exactly what I need to do next. I go down to the local book store and purchase another one. I like that they are inexpensive and readily available, however, I miss the joy of discovering a new journal. Still I have become more and more intimate with the leather bound cover. It is warmly familiar, and comfortable to hold. I keep it close by, savour its loden green colour and its embossed image of a forest of trees, branches interwoven into the sky. In the foreground there is a narrow path that disappears into the cluster of trees. Although I wasn’t living here when I purchased it back in 2007, the image looks uncannily similar to the forest of trees I peer out at from the windows of my home on the farm.
Two years ago, while I was writing my doctoral dissertation (has it already been that long), I remember stepping out onto the deck and speaking into the forest. I was deep in the middle of the phase of not-knowing, stimmied by how the final text would look. I was also frightened that I would never figure out how to structure it.
The Buddha taught that there are three characteristics of reality: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and no-self or anicca, dukkha and anatta. Each of these point toward the realization that nothing is solid, nor exists as a separate thing on its own, outside of everything else. When we try to know something, to feel secure and sure of what is happening, we are actually going against reality. Even though the trees look and feel solid, that is only our perception of them. They are actually fluid and changing, as are all living beings.
Of course it is human to want to know, to understand, to pin things down and label them. However the dharma teaches that there is only this moment. Strange that I would find such grounding in something that is unsolid. However that is what we all do. We put our faith in the outer circumstances of our lives, reach for comfort in loved ones, and beloved places, beings, things. However everything dies, leaves, moves on.
And so I return to the fact of the trees being cut down on the farm. I will miss them. And I am not the only one. I am sure there were birds that enjoyed the many comforts and grounding of those trees. Perhaps they even called them home.
I suppose us humans are not the only ones who must learn to live with uncertainty and life’s inevitable, constant changes.
In the book Ordinary Magic, psychotherapist and spiritual teacher John Welwood offers:
The final step in the healing process is to open our heart to the vicissitudes we are facing in our lives… When reality breaks our heart, it is calling on us to soften and open… We discover a sweet, raw tenderness toward ourselves and the fragile beauty of life as a whole… We all need to heal our separation from reality and our struggle with it. The whole world is in need of that. (p. 169)
The journal is a place where I learn to flow with the changes that occur moment to moment in my life. It receives all my feelings, thoughts, worries and stories, allows me to accept them and to let them be on the page. It is a kind of literary alchemy. Each time I come to the page, it also reminds me to start fresh, to let go of what I think I know and be as a child again, happy and at ease.
May all beings experience the healing that comes from accepting things as they are. May all beings be happy and at ease.