Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Tree pose has been a playful practice of mine for many years. Like so many of the yoga practices, there is no bottom to the depth of what can be discovered. More recently, I began a daily contemplation of the sutra: “As for non reaction, one can recognize that is has been fully achieved when no attachment arises in regard to anything at all, whether perceived directly or learned.” Trees have achieved this.
I certainly have not. Sometimes I resist my practice for it makes me painfully aware of my emotional turmoil. And then I cherish it when relief is provided, relief all the sweeter in contrast to the turbulence of my feelings: dread for our future as we ignore the science that would help us meet the challenges of climate change and the pandemic; frustration over crazy politics that protect the power elites and threaten the well being of everyone else; disappointment in personal relationships.
The 8 limbed yoga practice does help me to focus on the positive and not get stuck in the negative. I am more able to accept the losses and adjust my expectations. Contemplating the sutra on no attachment arising at all is just what I need right now and helps me at many points throughout the day. I find comfort in just thinking one thought for a while and seeing the vast horizon of its application. It is like a tree that never moves its whole life and is not attached to winter or summer, spring or fall. It just keeps being a tree though it all. Those are the moments of sublime release from attachment and aversion.
Many other moments I am a slave to the causes of suffering, bowing down to stress, hard work, and then resentment towards the hard work. Then I contemplate the sutra and practice being a tree: accepting and adjusting, observing and bowing without breaking as the winds of change whirl around me and the very ground shifts under my roots. The tree is more temporal than the mountain that stands for eons but the tree is less ethereal than this human life.
I think of the walking, talking trees in Lord of the Rings carrying the warriors who will defend righteousness (and the trees themselves) into yet another battle. The Native Americans and the Celtic tribes of ancient Europe believed that trees were sentient beings, and in fact, that all of nature is alive and vibrating with the pulse of creative, healing energy. But tree medicine and tree magic was especially potent. Like trees, humans root to rise, ground down for life giving substance and extend upwards, reaching for the warming nourishment of the light.
I always thought it was a silly idea to hug a tree but decades ago, in a prolonged season of desperate sorrow, I wrapped my arms around the rough bark and clung tightly to the stiff trunk. As I held the tree close, I began to feel its breath, its warmth, its compassionate love. It’s ability to accept and dissolve all of my painful feelings and negative thoughts resonated through my body. It wasn’t personal. It just was. Like the sutra, the tree was non reactive. No attachment arose in regard to my suffering. But it was not cold and uncaring (which is what I sort of imagined the sutra was suggesting.) It was present, strong, grounded, extending, and much less stiff than it first seemed to be.
I could feel life pulsing through it in every direction, not just up and down but also movement between the tree and every other object around it. By not reacting, by not being attached to my stories and my fantasies, my grasping of a certain outcome, the tree allowed me to feel the freedom of letting go, the liberation that comes when I am. I just am. Becoming like the tree, finding balance by resting into the earth while reaching skyward, and accepting both my own true identity and connecting to the life around me, I also glimpsed the sutra’s promise that someday no attachment will arise in regards to anything at all.