Practices From the Inside Out: The Spiritual Life of Trees

The Spiritual Life of Trees

I live in a place where many people seem to think trees get in their way.

Trees send their roots out to create obstacles in sidewalks. When the winds pick up trees drop their branches, and fronds, and disrupt traffic. Where I live people plant citrus trees to be decorative and the fruit can become a nuisance.

People here do not seem to understand the spiritual life of trees the same way I do.

I walk as often and as much as I can. Most of my walking is in areas with a high density of people. Walking on city sidewalks, to meet people in offices or coffee shops.

Sidewalks attract people on cell phones, bicycles, baby carriages, skateboards, restaurant furniture. In the evenings I walk around the neighborhood sharing sidewalks with runners, people walking their dogs, more bicycles and skateboards.

I remember walking on summer evenings in the Midwest past houses with porches and yards with trees. Specific walks in many places; by myself and with all those different people, sharing our thoughts or our stillness.

Visiting New Camaldoli Hermitage reminds me my favorite walking companions are tall evergreen trees. Their straight, towering trunks reach up to the sky like church spires. They are like the pillars of great cathedrals, shading the sun’s light and creating sacred space. My thoughts and reflections have room to become prayers.

The spiritual life of trees embraces me and restores my soul. Tall evergreens help me regain my perspective.

They have been alive for hundreds of years; there are tall trees in California which are among the oldest, longest living things on the earth. They do not hurry. Through years of struggle and years of plenty, they continue doing what they sprouted to do.

Trees are examples to us.

Breathing In the Spiritual Life of Trees

Tall trees are deeply rooted and focused. They have complex systems of roots which hold them to the earth and allow them to stand tall and strong. They grow branches and leaves, but put most of their effort into developing their trunks.

We listen to the wind rustling through the tops of the trees and run our hands over their bark. Some trees fill the air with their own fresh aromas or drop their leaves and nuts and cones. Some of us watch trees transform into explosions of color each autumn. We see them send out their buds and shoots of new growth each spring.

Palm trees look like living fireworks.

Tall evergreens understand the need to remember their values, not to be distracted from their primary purpose. They pay most of their attention to pointing toward the sun and growing taller, not covering a wider area. Tall trees know how to be true to themselves.

Trees are living, breathing, growing beings but not only physical beings. Spiritual life flows through trees just as it flows through us.

The spiritual life in trees will bow or wave to acknowledge the spiritual life in me. The spiritual life in me responds and I bow acknowledging the spiritual life in trees.

It can be easy for us to forget we are surrounded by the spiritual life of trees. We can become oblivious to how much spiritual life there is in the world around us.

Every so often we need to take a walk and breathe in the spiritual life of trees.

Trees can be like people. Their bark may be rough and their branches might hit us in the face. We need to remember and breathe with them, recognizing their spiritual life.

Recognizing the Spiritual Life of Trees

Tall trees can show me things and teach me lessons other people cannot. I have been persuaded by spending time walking with tall trees. Their example, their patience, their wisdom help create sacred space I need for listening.

Like listening to sacred stillness, walking with tall trees helps me hear something more.

There have been times when I was tired, frustrated, unwilling to listen any more, even to myself. Only the healing spiritual life of trees could bring me back to myself.

Like with people, the spiritual life of trees connects them with us and with each other. There are trees I am drawn to not because of how they look or feel. There is something about them beyond the physical which attracts me and draws me to them.

Some trees are just right for sitting under or even leaning against. Other trees, though it has been a while, seem to be made for climbing.

There are trees I could stand or sit and watch for hours. They seem to have different emotions in various kinds of weather.

It is true other landscapes have their own spiritual life, like deserts or beaches or mountains. There is just something about the spiritual life of trees.

Sharing the Spiritual Life of Trees

It is more than the way they breathe oxygen into the atmosphere and keep us alive. There is more than the way they look and how they decorate our lives.

The spiritual life of trees goes deeper than that.

The moments I have spent communing with tall trees stay with me and bring me back. I remember walking in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum years ago. There are the times I have visited Shenandoah and Sequoia and Yosemite and Muir Woods.

The spiritual life of trees feeds and nurtures spiritual life in me.

The light beneath tall trees I have gotten to know helped me see where to go. Trees have whispered to me in gentle breezes or sounded more forceful in stronger winds.

Trees have given me opportunities to take a breath, calm down, and remember. They remind me spiritual life helps us stay rooted while we stretch and reach out.

The spiritual life of trees inspires me to continue.

When will we open ourselves to the spiritual life of trees this week?

How can we experience the spiritual life of trees today?

[Image by Landscapes in The West]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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