Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wood and trees

Day before yesterday the local fire department cut down a beautiful old juniper tree next to the local skating pond in order to erect a massive flagpole.

I liked that bush. It had a presence and I'd been walking past it for years. From what I could see, there was room for the bush and the flagpole. In fact from my point of view it's the flagpole that seems superfluous. You can walk a hundred yards - maybe less- to the fire department itself and there's another huge, almost identical flagpole. Just how many assertive displays of patriotism do we need in a hundred yard radius?

I guess sometimes we can't see the trees for the wood.

Men like to make things out of wood. In our modern cultures of personality we cut trees down and then make objects and worship them. Buddhas, Christs, Shivas. Poles with flags on them. What have you.

In the old days, in the primeval cultures of essence, men used to worship living trees, not dead ones. They would go out in the woods and create the allegory of their spiritual food from the living roots and branches and leaves of the tree itself. Not a static, dead symbolic representation of a living truth- they fashioned their inner myths from contact with life itself.

Simon Schama wrote a great book about this called Landscape and Memory. Go check it out, it is very much worth reading. You'll discover that the origins of all human cultures spring from a deep relationship with the living earth, and that the earth shapes our cultures in subtle forms more than our cultures will ever shape the earth with machines. We are the earth- or rather, one particular expression of her. As we slowly hack her into pieces, we dismember ourselves.

In the early cultures of mankind there was an understanding of relationship with the planet. Not a romantic, naive one in which nature was a benign, compassionate Gaia. It was tougher and more resilient, and much more frightening and powerful, I think. There was a humility in it. We've progressively trivialized mother nature as we-in our imaginations, at any rate- grow more distant from her. It's only the occasional event like the tsunami of 2004 that remind us we're not in control- and then only for a moment. All too soon we succumb once again to that hypnotic sleep induced by technology and artifice.

Deepening our relationship with our practice involves reawakening an awareness of that connection. It is an awareness that extends not just upwards but downwards, until our cells themselves vibrate in an awareness of our connection to the planet. Extending our consciousness downward into the living roots it springs from creates a foundation for us. Without that foundation, the trunk of our inner tree is weak, and the leaves are feeble. So when I sit, I like to reach down inside myself seeking that living relationship first.

Then I wait to see what the heavens might show me.

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