I am always leaning against a tree.
Even now, as I write this, as I rest against the headboard of a twin bed in the upstairs room of my Aunt Jean’s house, as my daughter sleeps feverishly and fitfully beside me…
…even now, I lean against a tree.
I told my mom about my tattoo when I was 19…in a Mother’s day card.
I got the tattoo at the Barking Dog Tattoo parlor in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri when I was on spring break. Kevin Townsend came with me and told me jokes to distract me as the tree took root on my back.
I’ve never wanted anything else inked on my body. I don’t have a favorite animal, insect, or color. But perhaps I have a spirit tree.
The Buddha, it is said, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Newton, too. Marveling at trees is a historical human pastime:
So I am sometimes like a tree
Rustling over a grave site
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots embrace.
I went on a long tree-lined run today, up Vermont hills, through Vermont woods. “On Being” in my ears. “Search Inside Yourself: Contemplation in Life and Work, with Mirabai Bush.” This Catholic girl who wandered East, found Buddhism, and brought it West.
“I could look inside myself and learn the nature of the mind and the nature of the world. Just looking within was really stunning…I was not my mind. I was not my body. I was those things but I was also awareness.”
“It gave me a kind of radical self-confidence that I belonged on this planet.”
She has grown trees, too.
The Tree of Contemplative Practices is a tree I hadn’t climbed before. She grew this tree…or simply uncovered its growing.
The tree reveals the practices our human family cultivates to seek mindfulness. Those that are active (like yoga or long walks) and those that are quiet (like meditation and stillness). Those that are creative (like writing and singing) and those that are relational (like storytelling and dialogue). All of these rooted in our desires for connection and awareness.
When I think of the branches that make up my contemplative practice…they are often attached to the people who grafted them into my life:
Early spiritual teachers like Ava who still go on early morning and late evening walks where she sees the face of God in horizons and farmhouses.
Exquisite souls like Anya who watercolors and stitches her way through the world, recording her wonderings with tactile delicacy.
My tree of contemplative practice is as fleshy and human as the one at the small of my back.
Understanding these habits and routines that as a practice towards awareness, stretching towards connection…it changes them somehow.
Our cooking is not about a hunger in our bellies but a hunger to nourish and be nourished by each other.
Our knitting is not simply to keep our hands busy but to stitch our affection into a garment that will warm and comfort those we love.
Our postings on Facebook, even, are not merely documentation of our day to day but the way our lines weave into paragraphs build into chapters of this book of our stories coming together.
Phish concerts and “girlz nites”. Gardening and 10Ks. Sun salutations and foster dog walks.
The fecundity of profundity.
I am not particularly tree-like: Prone to wander. Awfully noisy. More sunny than shady.
Trees with their quiet sways, their deep groans, their patient growth, their absorption of the toxic and production of breath…to be this way.
I long for the tree in me.
(Not just on me.)