The Appreciation of Trees

Aug 9, 2023 | Virtues of the Heart

There is a tree on the campus grounds of Princeton University, I see it most weekends while walking my dog (Leo). The tree a Dawn Redwood, is a relative of the Redwood tree (Sequoia) and the Bald cypress (Taxodium) trees that we associate more with the west coast. So, it stands out from the other trees. It is widely recognized as the tallest tree on Campus. It was planted in 1955 which makes it only 68 years old, yet it has grown quite fast to about 123 feet tall. It is a gentle giant among a vase collection of botanical delights.

There are many beautiful trees on campus, which is what I love about walking there, but there is something about this tree that draws me to it and I’m not the only one. The University is building a world-class museum right beside the tree and has designed a room in the museum which will have a clear view of this now-famous tree.

It has been said that trees offer us a mystical connection to our spirituality. Trees play an important role throughout history in many cultures, mythologies, and religions. In ancient traditions all over the world, the tree is a symbol of life itself, representing the totality of a universe in which everything is imbued with spirit. The tree represents the cycle of life, death, and renewal with the changing seasons.

If I look at the tree without thinking, labeling, judgment, or naming, just as a witness, I open my senses to feel the energetic transfer of this life form. It has a magnetic quality to it that draws one into an appreciation of its presence, beauty, and majesty. I can’t help but feel a deep connection to it as if it were somehow communicating with me. I feel the life force that animates it, which is the same life force that animates me and all life forms.

It is the witnessing, recognition, and connection to another expression of consciousness. In other words, seeing the tree in this manner is an opportunity and invitation to touch the divine as this quote so beautifully states:

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”

— Joseph Campbell

These are the small experiences that can light up life if we are neutral, still, and open our hearts. I never tire of these connections to trees, flowers, animals, children, strangers, or the sky, even if they only last but a second. Each is an opportunity to taste the purpose of life. These opportunities are plentiful in everyone’s life but are mostly missed in the fast-paced, jam-packed, stressed-out, fear-inducing social environment we all live in. These small connections to nature are an antidote to the challenging world we live in today.

The connection to nature is not hard, it is very easy, and it could be said it is the opposite of hard. There is no effort in this. What is difficult is having the will and courage to stop and listen, to see, to open your heart to a deeper experience of life without the noise of the mind and all the social distractions stealing this moment from conscious living.

The more we can live in this state of appreciation and connection to nature, we are better equipped to meet the challenges that life presents us daily. We become grounded in our true essence, our purpose, and our ability to connect with life itself. With practice, we can gradually disengage with compulsive thinking, worrying, judging, avoiding, and replace them with a deeper interaction and alignment with life. This act of appreciation and connection is an act of love. It is self-care in its highest order. However, these moments of deeper awareness and connection do not replace the importance of professional help if we find ourselves overwhelmed by difficult challenges in our personal life.

The next time you look at a tree, see if you can, just see it without thought, without any commentary, just witness it in its glory of being what it is. See if you can sense the life force that animates it. This simple exercise is a means by which we can touch the divine and when this happens there is no mistaking it. The heart is activated and glows with interconnected love of all.

The tree is a metaphor for me, for the purpose of life. It knows why it is here and what it is meant to do. It knows how to grow branches and leaves, and how to reach for the life-giving sun’s rays. It knows how to reach down into the ground for nourishment and give support to what happens above the ground. In its interconnectedness with all of nature, it can become the home of many birds, insects, and other creatures as well as providing beauty and wonder as it expresses itself in this reality. It is the beauty of life unfolding without doubt, judgment, thinking, wanting or fear, it is the pure natural life force (consciousness) manifesting in the form of a tree.

When we can appreciate nature in this manner, it becomes easier to appreciate life in whatever form it is. We naturally become grateful to witness how life is expressed in infinite forms, and we can connect with them from this sense of appreciation, which is love expressed.

We can pass a tree, a flower, a cow, a dog, a fish, a bee, or a stranger and never really see them or the magic that is behind them. What is animating them and giving them life? It only takes a moment of stillness and openness. It is so simple, so easy, yet transformational. In a very real sense, it is what we are looking for.

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.”

— Paulo Coelho

“True happiness is found in simple seemingly unremarkable things.”

— Eckhart Tolle

The Dawn Redwood of Princeton University Campus
The Dawn Redwood of Princeton University Campus

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