Earlier this week I was back visiting the town I used to live in, and having a day to spare decided to go for a walk around some of the places I used to visit regularly. One of these was the meadows and woodland on my old university campus. My wandering brought me to a clearing in the woods where some climbable oak trees grow, one of which is an old friend of mine, a tree I sometimes used to climb once in a while, and which became a place of prayer for me. Being suitably dressed I hoisted myself up into it once again, to spend some time catching up with it before continuing my ramble.
And time slowed down.
Trees know a rhythm that we don’t. It’s very complex, embracing both the chaotic, fast lives of the insects busy in their leaves to the much slower underlying rhythm of centuries. Sitting in its branches and feeling it move at its own pace shifted my perspective again, giving me a glimpse into tree time. Tree time feels the breeze, growth, sap, days, seasons, years, centuries. This tree knows me from my occasional visits here, and I can feel it calmly observing me as a transient but welcome visitor into its long lifetime.
I can’t help but be mindful in a tree – apart from the need for awareness to keep myself safe whilst some distance off the ground, a tree can teach me to slow down and see the world at its own pace, and notice what it notices. I spend so much of my life alternating between being busy and wasting time on the internet, and whole days can disappear almost unnoticed. It’s no wonder I dry up and burn out so often. It’s only when I slow down that I see the fast things I’d otherwise miss; here in the tree, the insects buzzing past, a tussle between rival butterflies, a thrush singing, a rare glimpse of a bullfinch… an unexpected pheasant launching out of another tree (when does that happen?!!).
I wonder if I learnt to slow down and live as mindfully as the tree, seeing the chaos around me and calmly and patiently reaching out into it to make it a little better, would I find a rhythm of life strong and deep enough to sustain me for the long haul? And to be at peace enough to be able to let go easily of this life when it’s time?