There are many ways we can gain wisdom and insight into the true nature of things. The most common, but not necessarily the most fun, is through experience. A more enjoyable way is through storytelling. Stories that speak to our human condition and our place in the world. This entry is one of both; my dad’s experience, the story I’ll tell and insight I gleaned from it.
A couple weeks ago, my parents had a strong summer storm roll through; winds up to 80 m.p.h. out of the north, very rare, which has only happened twice in the last 32 years. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but it destroyed of one of his favorite trees, a Linden Basswood, that provided shade for his daily sits on my parent’s beautiful and peaceful backyard deck for the last 25 years. Not only did the tree perish, so did many of his garden vegetables, including the giant grape tomato plant that his grandkids (and me) eat directly off the vine as well as his cucumbers that eventually turn into their famous homemade sweet pickles they share…My grandmother’s recipe that takes two weeks to make. It’s interesting the layers attachment we have with all of this!
This tree got a steady water source from a rain downspout off the house and the birdbath sitting underneath. Dad explained that because of this, the tree’s roots didn’t have to grow deep and strong into the clay. Through its environment, it was relatively “un-stressed” to find water and nutrients, so the roots grew relatively shallow in the softer, fertile soil. So, consequently, it was no surprise that a strong wind could be its demise.
A few days later, I was on my own back deck by myself, peacefully watching my two 20+ year-old maple trees sway back and forth in the breeze together, making sounds of the ocean, as if they were having their own private conversation. (Looking back, that is one of my own versions of informal meditation, my “tree meditation” and I’ve been doing it for years.) This time though, in the process of emptying the mental chatter, I spontaneously made room for a new connection and wisdom.…the image of Dad’s falling tree came into my awareness, and how it relates to my own meditation practice. Nothing catastrophic is happening to me in this very moment of my life, but that’s the precise reason why I practice, when things are relatively calm. No doubt about it, I will eventually experience a great deal of stress, perhaps trauma, loss, fear, rage. No one is immune from this. It is in those moments of chaos that I can fall back on my meditation practice, like making deposits in a bank account. That’s one of the many reasons why millions of people meditate…as a preventative measure, an upstream approach.
“Under duress, we don’t rise to our expectations,
we fall to our level of training.” – Bruce Lee
Lots of times, probably multiple times a day, I try and convince myself I’m too busy for practice. There always seems to be something more pressing that demands my attention, or someone that innocently encroaches on my practice. As I sit on the floor, which is a proxy for the Earth…I feel my own roots, grounding myself into presence, centering, rooting me to Oneness, Unity, God, the Universe, Mother Nature…whatever you name it, different doors into the same room. When I sit in meditation, I inhabit a place of loving awareness that is not carried away by the storms of life and strong emotions. Training my mind to fall back to awareness when confronted with a stressor helps maintain this steady center.
“If you move into pure awareness in the midst of pain, even for the tiniest moment, your relationship with your pain is going to shift right in that very moment. It is impossible for it not to change because the gesture of holding it, even if not sustained for long, even for a second or two, already reveals its larger dimensionality. And that shift in your relationship with the experience gives you more degrees of freedom in your attitude and in your actions in a given situation, whatever it is…even if you don’t know what to do.”
– Jon Kabat Zinn
How do you nurture, cultivate and care for yourself within the “full catastrophe” of life? It is imperative to continually cultivate strong roots that dig deep into the Earth’s crust, especially when things are calm, which sustains us when the winds of life that pry at our foundations. This is why I practice.