~ Trees as Teachers - The Standing People, Our Wise Old Elders ~

Image courtesy of Autumn Skye Art

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky” — Kahlil Gibran

When you walk in a forest, what energy do you feel? Is it magical, mystical, primordial?

Does it hold a story connected to the old ways? Does it make you want to breathe deeply and stand still?

I observe trees as a pure protective force. Their canopy of branches reach up to the sky, acting like a conductor on earth for the universal source energies. Their roots reach deep into the earth and tap into the wellspring of ancestral stories from time immemorial. I see trees as caretakers of life, record holders, wise elders and storytellers.

If trees are storytellers, what is your relationship and story with a certain tree or particular species of trees?

For a moment, think back to when you were a child. Did you ever climb a tree in your own backyard, at school, or in the park?

Did you sit up in its’ highest branches, giving you a different vantage point of the land below? Did you ever sit under a certain tree whilst its canopy protected you from the rain or the sun? Did you ever notice the dappled light playing and dancing through the branches?

How did this make you feel?

What tree felt like a grandfather to you, quietly but strongly holding space for your own growth?

my intent is to weave some narrative of my personal experience connected to the power trees can represent in one’s own life.

I grew up in the Wakatipu, in a town called Queenstown, in New Zealand. Invasive species of conifer, wilding pine and fir created endless vistas and covered the hills around the town.

As a child this comforted me. They indeed were my grandfathers; I felt held and protected. I never felt alone wandering through the many pine forests, building huts, collecting the fallen needles to lay on, listening to the sounds of the birds nesting. The smell of pine resin is still a soothing balm to my soul. It holds and evokes all my childhood memories in its’ pinene and limonene scent.

The summer I finished high school, I hitched the distance from my home in the south island to the north island, to sit in the presence of the grandfather tree of my motherland New Zealand, Tané Mahuta. Also known as God of the Forest, this giant Kauri is the largest and oldest known tree in New Zealand, and the world. It is estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Legend says that Tané Mahuta is the “separator of heaven and earth”, a sacred tree that holds ancient stories, a living library. Time stands still when you are in the presence of this majestic being.

A tree not only holds space and stories. It is also home to many insects, reptiles, creatures, birds, microscopic bugs and bacteria. Trees provide us with wood for warmth and shelter. They create symbiotic relationships with other ancient and profound plant beings like moss and lichen.

Even from a purely chemical perspective, a symbiotic relationship exists between trees and humans. Humans breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, while trees breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. So we are in constant communion with the natural world, even if we are unaware of it.

There is a theory called the “Biophilia hypothesis”. It suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Biophilic experiences can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and enhance mood and creativity. These and other outcomes can increase health and well-being.

“Forest bathing”, or shinrin-yoku as the Japanese call it, is the art of taking in the forest through all five senses. It has recently gained some popularity. In his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Dr. Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, lays out the science behind the practice. He explains that spending time in the forest is so healing because trees release phytoncides, natural oils that protect the plants from bacteria, insects, and fungi. These phytoncides linger in the forest air and when humans inhale them, they receive a whole host of benefits. For instance, benefits may include a boosted immune system, lower levels of stress hormones, reduced blood pressure, decreased anger, greater creativity, improved problem-solving skills and better sleep at night. What’s more, Li found that you only have to spend two hours per month in the forest to reap the benefits.

We all have a sacred tree, one that represents a spirit that can link us into the greater cosmos. A sacred tree is a grounding influence that can constantly remind us of our connection to the great mystery.

A sacred tree is sometimes a tree from our childhood, one we come across quite by accident or one we intentionally set out to find. Whichever way you find your sacred tree, the greater forest totem reminds us that all trees are always interconnected, through no time-space. And if you find yourself in a different place from your childhood sacred tree, you can always seek another and ask the spirit of your childhood sacred tree to also be present.

When I was a child, I would visit two sacred trees in the Queenstown Botanical Gardens: a Monkey Puzzle and a Giant California Redwood. These trees are etched into my memory.

I always honour their spirit because they are my ancestors from the land where I took my first breath. If I ever see a Monkey Puzzle or a California Redwood, I’m immediately transported though timeless space to the feeling residing in my cells, that the spirit of these trees held for me as a child. Sacred trees become guides to us throughout our lives, much like other spirit guides or ancestors do.

Forests are supported by mother trees. These are the trees that are tasked with carrying nature’s ancient genetic memory forward. Mother trees hold the seed that will create a healthy biodiversity. They also send nutrients and information to other trees in the forest that are unwell or needing assistance. They are constantly in service to the greater forest totem energy.

Nearly all ancient cultures held that trees were sacred. Druids believed that trees held nature

spirits and nymphs called dryads, elemental beings that you could commune with. They believed that the trees held wisdoms of the universe, so they would make offering, ceremony and prayer to the trees.

Many trees also hold sacred medicine that assists great awakenings both personally and collectively, These sacred medicines have been revered through time by shamans in many countries around the world.

My personal story deeply connects to the standing people. I am a forest dweller. We live nestled in the middle of a greater forest intelligence, an ecosystem that we are but one intrinsic part of. Over time, the forest has guided us lovingly to “unlearn” what we were taught, and show us more authentic and sustainable ways to live.

A conversation with a forest will change your life. It will link you into your primal self, you're wild and true mystic.

Even Buddha found enlightenment beneath a tree. They are beyond any doubt our wise old elders, reminding us that we are always protected. Trees gift us an understanding of being present, being steadfast, and never losing our sense of wonder.

A ritual to awaken your connection to your sacred tree

Find a local forest or garden, take a walk around your neighbourhood, green spaces or local botanical gardens. Slow down your presence as your walking and just quietly observe.

Breathe in the life force of the trees around you. Discover the feeling that resides inside you as you explore this connection to the tree people, to your own breath, to your life-force and the actual process of just slowing down.

Touch the trees. If you can walk barefoot do so. Dwell in the space for a time, and see which tree draws you in, like a friend calling to you. You will just know, so trust the feeling.

Touch the tree with your hand and introduce yourself. Close your eyes and take a moment to feel the connection back to your hand. See if any images, memories, insights or even just a

feeling becomes present to you.

Once you have found your sacred tree, thank the tree for the connection. Let the tree know you will come visit again. Take note of the species of tree, and even do a little research to learn more about the tree and their ancestral history, magic or medicine offerings.

Next time you visit your tree, take an offering with you. Bring a little cacao, a little crystal, some flowers or a little natural hand-made object. Place the offering on or at the base of your sacred tree.

Make the time to sit with your sacred tree, meditate or even just take a book and a flask of tea and hang out with your tree, like you would a friend or a loved one. Allow your body to absorb its’ gifts and medicine offerings. Ask if you can take a leaf for your home altar. Always offer a payer and deep gratitude before you leave. Know that as you sit with this sacred tree, you can call in the spirit of your childhood sacred trees also.

Try to create a long- term relationship with your sacred tree, allow yourself to be a student of the tree, an initiate of its ancient knowledge and healing gifts.

Images of my Earth Wisdom & Forest Medicine Mentoring Residency students connecting with a great grandfather pine and a great grandfather oak, and forest bathing.

Ladypachamama© 2021

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