Recently, I read the wonderful book The Secret Life of Trees. This has given me a new way, many new ways, of seeing trees. These past few days I also embarked on a three-day fast; I was feeling overwhelmed, I needed to slow down, and see things with more clarity.
As I fasted, I became aware of time, both how much time I had been spending, in my non-fasting time, on planning, preparing, eating, and cleaning up after eating food, and how much time was left over when I was not doing those things. A lot of time. I also became aware of how I had been filling my time with ‘doing’. I seemed to always need to have a project to be on. In my slowed down mode, that felt like frenzy. I took some time off, over the weekend, to read a book I had wanted to read, to pull myself away from my projects, to take more time to care for myself, and to just be.
The second thing I became aware of over the weekend was a deep sense of renewed appreciation for the food we eat. Preparing a soup for my husband while fasting was an entirely new experience- I saw each carrot, each potato, with a kind of reverence; I soaked in its beauty as I held it, I felt almost as though I caressed it. I thanked the carrots, the potatoes, the onions, and the celery, and I took the time to save the ends of the carrots, onions, and celery, placing them in small jars on the windowsill with a few centimeters of water, to grow roots again and flourish. I did things slowly, and I thought of trees.
Trees operate on a different time scale than we do. They are active-quite active in fact, and constantly active- but they move at a large, slow scale that we take for inaction. This afternoon, after eating my first meal since the fast, I rested on the couch and looked out at the trees. One, in particular, a large birch, caught my attention. I noticed how bare it looks in the late winter, but thought that soon, with the coming of spring, it would begin to leaf. It is almost as if a year, to a tree, is as a night and then a day is to us.
I found myself adopting this tree, and consulted silently with my tree mentor, as she became, for I called her ‘she’ in my mind. I said, ‘so, I understand that you are sentient, what exactly do you feel? ‘Everything’, she intoned, and I thought back to what I had read, that trees feel more than our fingertips, sense light and the waves of sound and ‘smell’ chemical messages. ‘But what does it matter that you are sentient, I lamented, that you feel everything when you cannot do anything, cannot change all the things that are wrong in the world, or even the things that happen to you?’ ‘Well’, she answered gently, ‘neither can you, with all your running around’. Touche´.
I asked her, ‘What do you do then, when you are aware of negative forces in the world or are attacked; when you feel a mold, or a woodpecker burrowing into you, working against you, and when it hurts? How do you just sit there and take it?’, I wailed silently. ‘Ah, I do react, she said, though my reactions are slow, and the solutions are slow. Sometimes it works, I build a woody knot around a penetration, and I defend myself, and sometimes it does not, and I am invaded, or assaulted, or wounded. But I am still here, and the world goes on.’
I asked, ‘Are trees stressed? Are they anxious?’ ‘Yes’, she said, simply. I asked, ‘Then do I just do nothing and despair? What should I do?’ ‘Do what you are meant to do. Only that. It is enough’, she said. I was about to ask her how I know what I am meant to do, but I already knew the answer. I needed to take more time, take things slowly, more like a tree. Be aware, sentient, of the world around me, and register the forces acting on me. Find what I am meant to do and then do it purposely, methodically even, but calmly, and not in a frenzy of activity. Say less, perhaps, and react less quickly. Know that change takes time. I am still here. The world goes on.