The Tree is a legend in all cultures. It reaches to universal heights in mythology becoming the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, the Cosmic Tree. And it reaches right into the roots of our individual consciousness to our very personal histories with trees. Our stories, upon reflection, can become our own myths that reveal hints of a bigger truth.
When you do the Tree pose, allow a favourite tree to arise in your mind or see which tree memories want to speak. Find out what the tree wants to tell you about your life, about your knowledge, about your relationship to the cosmos.
Here are a few of my tree stories.
I grew up in a valley surrounded by mountains covered in trees.
As a child, I liked the big maple tree in our backyard. I was adept at climbing up, resting my back against the firm trunk, pressing my bare feet against the tree's strong joints, feeling sunshine play on my face through dappled leaves. One day I went so high I got stuck like a cat that's gone too far, until finally someone noticed and helped pry me loose. What is that fear of coming down?
As an adult I lived for awhile in other landscapes, flat and treeless, where I would become the vertical one, made self-conscious and outstanding and unduly important by my human height. I searched for hiding places and found the prairie river, where cottonwoods could not resist growing. And I relaxed back into my proper perspective.
The Ponderosa pines were another favourite, with their red puzzle-piece bark an endless mystery. They continue to intrigue me, showing up in my drawings like an enigmatic pining for home, an essential memory of something elusive just beyond reach.
One full-moon night in a season of restlessness, I read Siddhartha and learned that in India communities of people lived in forests, seeking wisdom through spiritual practice. I longed for such a purposeful place, wondering why this way of life could not exist here and now. Not many years later, I found the forested ashram I live in now, my wish granted by the celestial wishing tree that lives in the heart and hears our deepest longings.
Today I walk up the ashram mountain to the Cedar Forest, where the trees reach up for what seems miles to let the sunlight touch their branches. They then convey that warmth all the way down to their roots in the bog of rich mud below. The roots slurp up the water, eating the minerals for nourishment and streaming the goodness to the upper branches.
I find a crooked place on the hillside and stand with the cedars in the pose of the Tree. Balance is not their concern or mine. We're fine as we are. More importantly, we communicate namaste, devotion, reverence. Their silence makes my mind stop for a moment. In the silence something widens, deepens, heightens reaches up, reaches down, reaches out. In the silence I notice their lives alert and watchful, a model of awareness. I observe how even as they die, they are humble, letting go and falling into each other's arms, offering their bodies back to enrich the earth.
It takes time and silence to understand. How often am I really quiet or thinking deeply about life? Doing the Tree for even a moment, I become aware of life span, seasons, continual growth, integrity and a silent giving. Being with trees, I am grateful and questioning of the mystery of which we are all a part.
how to do vriksasana: the tree pose
the tree pose
- Stand in the Mountain (Tadasana) feeling strong, balanced on both feet, present.
- Shift your weight to one side, then lift up one foot a bit from the ground.
- Allow the hip to open as you place the sole of your foot against the inside of the standing leg. Place the foot on the calf, the knee or the thigh, keeping your hips level and maintaining the upward movement through your standing leg and spine. To start, you can even keep your toes on the ground and just lift up your heel. Or stand near a wall and use your fingertips to help find your balance.
- Bring your hands into namaste (prayer position) at the heart, holding this position and feeling into it. Then lift the arms with hands in prayer position above the head. You can also open the arms and hands out like branches reaching for the light.
- Come out of the pose by bringing your arms back down and releasing the leg.
- Return to the Mountain before doing the Tree on the other side.
- Do the Tree pose with your special tree in mind. Visualize your tree and write your story.
- In ancient Sumerian myths, the tree is a temple, a bond between Heaven and Earth. As you do the Tree pose, reflect on being like a temple, a bond between Heaven and Earth.
- Stand in the Tree pose thinking about your roots. Ask yourself: Where have my roots spread? Where do they get their nourishment?