08/24/2012 11:29 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

Tasting From the Trees of Knowledge

"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth's sweet flowing breast; a tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in Summer wear a nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree." -- Joyce Kilmer

How many trees have you seen today? How many have you actually looked at? Sat under? Leaned against? Dare, I say, even hugged?

For most of us the answer is probably on the low end, if any at all. Trees don't seem to serve us in our modern culture, at least until we cut them down, carve them up, and convert them to furniture, housing, fire fuel or coveted hardwood floors.

The most practical aspect of trees goes largely unnoticed by us: The scientific fact that trees convert the toxic gases of this blue planet into air breathable by us humans. Trees pull carbon in and release oxygen out, which is the exact complimentary process to our breathing. Without trees there would be no humans. Period. As the Buddhist Monk Thick Nhat Hanh says: "Trees are our lungs, outside of our bodies." By truly experiencing the truth about trees, we understand the interconnected, interdependent nature of all life. No man could ever be an island unto himself, unless that island had some trees!

Spiritual traditions across space and time have honored the tree and understood its significance. The Old Testament records the centerpiece of the "Tree of Knowledge" from the Garden of Eden, and God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. In the New Testament, Jesus was a carpenter who ultimately died nailed to a tree. In Islam there is the "Tree of Blessing," Kabbalah is centered around the "Tree of Life," the Druids turned the tree forests into temples and the Sioux Indians speak of the first man being a tree that eventually grew legs. The Buddha realized enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi Tree.

In yoga, the ancient teachings say that each pose should be rooted and expansive ("sthira suhkam asanam" in Sanskrit). What better description is there of a tree? Rooted into the earth, drawing steadiness, balance, and nourishment from the earth, the tree reaches up to the heavens.

There are individual trees that are hundreds of years old and are considered the oldest living beings on the planet. Sometimes I think about the consciousness of these patient, long-living gentle giants. Does the frantic energy and activity of humans seem to them the same way mosquitoes flitting around seem to us? Probably not, since trees are completely non-judgmental.

Maybe instead of carving that next tree up, we should sit beneath it and learn from it. As Charmaine Aserappa writes in her book A Japanese Garden: "Be the tree. Grant shelter."

May you all have a "tree-t"-filled end of summer!


-- db

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