The Hidden Life of Trees
I recently read Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling book, “The Hidden Life of Trees.” It turns out that trees do all sorts of extraordinary and almost human-like things (or maybe we should say humans do almost tree-like things?).
For example, they care for each other, have memories, make friends, think, and talk with each other. And scientists have shown that humans can hear this tree conversation, albeit at an unconscious level. I have been thinking of these abilities that trees have to communicate and work together as a metaphor for the human connection to the divine. Let me explain.
In Wohlleben’s book we learn that following the lessons from the higher or greater elements in the natural chain from leaf to tree to forest gives each tree the power to realize its full potential. Each tree is only as strong as the forest it is surrounded by and it thrives when it follows the ideal design of its species, a design that is enforced by the greater power of the forest.
Wohlleben writes: "In the forest, there are unwritten guidelines for tree etiquette. These guidelines lay down the proper appearance for upright members of ancient forests and acceptable forms of behavior. This is what a mature, well-behaved deciduous tree looks like. It has a ramrod-straight trunk with a regular, orderly arrangement of wood fibers. The roots stretch out evenly in all directions and reach down into the earth under the tree." And he goes to explain that trees that don't follow this etiquette suffer the consequences (cracking, rot, infestation and an early death).
From the great masters of the various spiritual traditions we learn that, as with individual trees, each of us individual humans, if we follow the rules set out by the universe and allow life to do its job rather than each of us trying to control the details of our fates, can live the best life possible.
Everything is a result of and surrounded by a life space. We see that the forest is the life space that surrounds all the individual trees. And the tree is the life space for the all the leaves on the tree. In Wohlleben's book he writes about how the life space of a forest can help the life space of a tree. For example he explains in several chapters how older trees essentially raise the younger ones, noting in the chapter called "Tree School" that "If a tree does not pay attention and do what it’s told, it will suffer."
Just as it is the job of the forest to protect and teach the individual trees and the larger trees to protect and teach the younger trees, it is at a more abstract level the responsibility of the largest life space to direct all the lesser life spaces. Moving to the ultimate level of abstraction, we can say that the universal life space is ultimately responsible for all the life spaces. Some people like to call this universal life space god or some word like that. Call it what you like but hopefully you can acknowledge the pattern.
So, back to us humans. Our problems stem from the fact that we have allowed the individual life space (our body/brain) to assume responsibility over itself. We can do that if we want but it is not necessary and it sure doesn't make life easy. If a person is making life choices from an emotional or intellectual base then the larger life space is not running the body. If there is any selfishness or self centeredness then the greater life spaces are not running the body. Rather than going it alone, we each have the possibility of partnering with the higher power. Just as we saw in the various chapters on this point in Wohlleben's book (like Tree School, Forest Etiquette, Slowly Does It, and Street Kids), the degree that a smaller life space allows that relationship to occur, it will benefit from that relationship. What are the gifts of letting the spirit or greater life space run our life? Love, peace, abundance, ease, nurturing, comfort and joy. Sounds pretty good!
When we read the old religious texts or hear spiritual masters say things like 'the purpose of the spirit is to reveal the presence of the father, to magnify and glorify him' this is just an old fashioned way of making this same point. Words like "revealing" and "glorifying" make it sound like shallow religious dictums when in fact it is just a dated way of making this same point about life spaces. Sadly, profound truths like this one are too often obscured by their context or the institutions that have become their caretakers.