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Archive for February, 2013

plane trunk2
(plane tree trunk)

Meditation Tree

All trees help us towards a meditative state. Tree awareness is always connected to the whole. Tree awareness exists in a cyclical or spiral time. Human awareness exists in a linearity of past – present – future. We think at this linear level: evaluating past memory or projecting into the future. The present doesn’t hold our attention in the same way. Perception of the present becomes memory or speculation by habit rather than of necessity.

Tree awareness is held in the present, so requires no thought process (or not like ours). When we contact a tree energy we absorb some quality of tree consciousness and so find it easier to release the habitual linearity of thought. This begins to establish a meditative state. (Each tree will have a different quality or ‘flavour’ depending upon how we interact with its energy.)

Tree awareness is concentric and 360 degrees. Individual awareness is the centre of a circle of energetic liveliness that also includes many other circles of awareness. A tree’s individual awareness is not experienced as separate from the circle around it, but as a denser focus of peculiar factors of view and form. The self (I) cannot have the same meaning where there is no spatial movement or change of view. As humans, we are always in a state of physically changing relationships with our environments. We have therefore to be constantly self-referring to know where we are and what we are doing. A tree exists in one place and has less differentiated parts (organs etc.) so there is not the same need to be self-conscious. More of the awareness can be directed outwards towards the circle’s circumference. It is an inclusive awareness rather than a human’s exclusive awareness. Entering into tree spirit awareness, we experience a change in metabolism – things slow down, the body relaxes, loses track of its position, sense of time changes, thoughts continue but do not distract us from an underlying, non-verbal vibration of energy, sometimes experienced as bliss or sound or light. Buddha knew what he was doing sitting under a tree – not just for shade, but for the connection to wholeness of life.

silver firs
(silver firs)

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cherry plum closeup

(blossoms of cherry plum, usually the first petalled blossoms in the English countryside, though not a native)

Tree Truth (part 2)

There are about 40 native trees in the British Isles. The figure varies because some authorities do not include some small trees that they consider to be shrubs ( such as hazel, elder, juniper, dwarf willow, the buckthorns). But it seemed to be a logical place to start an exploration of tree energies using the flower essences of those trees. It is something that most people do not think about or consider: all trees have flowers. Not just the blossoming trees, like cherry and apple. Ask someone to describe the flowers of holly or oak, and even though they would probably be able to identify the tree from its leaf, few would be so sure about the flowers. Tree flowers often are small and the drama of their opening, flowering and fruiting go on way above our heads most of the time. Only the showiest tree flowers are more familiar to us because those are the ones we often choose to put in our parks and gardens.

And this was the next conundrum that faced me. Those forty trees ( really less than thirty if one was not to get too fussy about minutiae of very closely related species, like willows), nowadays play much less a role in our everyday environments than species of trees that we have intentionally and consciously chosen to have around us. Naturalised trees are those from elsewhere that have settled down and are quite happy flowering, seeding and self-propagating. Some naturalised trees have been in our landscapes so long, it seems almost churlish to exclude them, segregsting them from those that ‘belong’. Environments change. In Britain, monkey puzzle ( Chile pine) was a native for millions of years longer than the eight thousand or so the ‘natives’ have been around. So too were firs, now only seen in the mountains of mainland Europe. There are ecological reasons why the natives are important. Each ecosystem has developed its flora and fauna as an interactive web of synergistic support. But a horticultural division into natives, naturalised and specimen/park/garden species, though valid at some levels, makes little sense from an energetic and holistic perspective. If we are to explore and understand the spiritual qualities of trees then it would seem to be vital to consider those relationships as they now are. Otherwise there is great danger of becoming historically exclusive, to become zenophobic, even racist, in our attitudes to trees in the same way as we habitually are to ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’.

So when I was out collecting tree essences, though I was seeking initially to study the most common natives and naturalised species, if something else came along and grabbed my attention, that was also included. If people understand the energies that they bring into their cities, towns and gardens, then that relationship becomes consciously powerful and sustaining. Humans are also integral with the ecology. To think otherwise is devisive, and more than a little arrogant. Just because one crazy plant collector ( an awful lots of Scots, for some reason), roams the wilds and brings home an interesting/ beautiful/useful tree, that doesn’t make the end result any different than a wind-blown seed or a fruit passing through a bird’s gut. Trees need ( it could be argued, indeed, that they invented), animals in order to get around the planet. The relationship we have with a tree species has always relied upon usefulness and aesthetics. Both these require us to understand the physical and energetic uniqueness of a tree species. The tree presents us with qualities that attract us, we move that tree to other lands, where if the conditions are right, it will thrive. Win win. ( of course, there do seem to be disasters with this sometimes when one introduced species outmanouvres an established species. But this too, is a narrow, short term, anthropecentric view of matters, and introduces value judgements about one living entity over another, a slippery slope!)

Human interactions, our history with trees is a fascinating thing when looked at from a spiritual or energetic perspective. So many serendipitous events, coincidences, unlikely paths have introduced us to some of our most familiar tree neighbours that one would not be blamed for believing that something very peculiar is going on…..

elm flowers

(flowers of elm, hardly noticed as they flower in February or early March. The seeds, if fertilised are much more obvious – a vivid green before most other trees are in full leaf)

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TREE:TRUTH

blackthorn closeup1

blackthorn blossom, now starting to show here in Devon, though it will not be out fully for a while yet – the cherry plum will blossom first.

(The Old English word for “tree” is the same word they used for “truth”).

Moving into trees…

After the first idea to create a range of tree flower essences I looked to see if there was a natural grouping or selection that would provide the basis for a coherent collection of essences. The first, and most obvious choice was to create a range of the trees familiar to the Celtic peoples and popularised in various oghams and tree calendars from the 1970’s onwards. These tree-based systems are still very popular today for they carry the authenticity of the ancient past with their certainty of repetition. However, there were significant problems and discrepancies in the system. At a purely practical level not all the ‘trees’ in the system are trees at all. In the modern ogham we find reed, vine, ivy, broom, gorse, heather. Despite the certainty of modern lists, they are largely derivative of the works of Robert Graves. This Classical scholar wrote the influential book “The White Goddess”, within which he linked some Welsh and Irish texts to a Celtic lunar calendar of his own invention. As a poet he had every right to investigate, manipulate and create – but his grandfather, who was a renowned Celtic scholar, could not approve of the liberties his grandson was taking. Other Irish scholars, such as Peter Berresford Ellis, attempt ( against the flood ), to realign the truth of the source materials.

So firstly, I would like to examine the situation, as I see it. That the Celtic peoples of Europe, the heirs to the Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples, venerated the symbol of the tree is evident, both from art and archaeology. In the Middle East and in the early civilisations of Mesopotamia the tree is a central image that in hot climates clearly comes to indicate stability, fertility, abundance and the immanent creator deities. In the more temperate, forested lands of the West trees take up a similar role and become associated with the sacred centre of the land (as its protector and nurturer) and, by association, to the people of the land themselves. Trees are the pillars of divine order, and a means to access divine will throughout these early cultures.

Our association of trees with druids mainly derives from Classical commentators whose details may be exaggerated, salacious or ‘ improved’ for a city-dwelling audience. The evidence that late indigenous Celts/Britons continued to revere trees is, however, found throughout the petulant complaints of medieval churchmen who strove to destroy sacred trees and groves wherever they could be found. The later transmutation of the cavern-like Romanesque cathedrals of Western Europe into the soaring forests of the High Gothic suggest that the artistic and metaphysical attachment to sacred trees was easier to transform than eradicate from the spirit.

The Celtic intelligensia were not, as commonly supposed, illiterate. They were familiar with Greek and used the Greek alphabet. What they did not do was commit important information to writing, preferring the oral transmission and the power of memory over the vicissitudes of parchment. Only in the Later Medieval period, under cultural threat from Norman imperialism, did the scholars of Wales and Ireland begin to write things down, and then only sparsely. Treatises on metaphysics and supposed ancient wisdom often dates from the 15th to 17th centuries – understandably casting some doubt on the authenticity and reliability of these sources.

The ogham (“o’am”) alphabet popularised by Graves, seems to be peculiarly Irish. It can be found in Ireland and the facing coasts of West Wales and western Scotland – those shores culturally close to the remaining Celtic cultures of tribal Ireland. Mainly found on memorial stones, it is difficult to date, but seems to be from the Early medieval period around the 5th century AD. In physical form ogham takes the form of combinations of lines arranged along or across an axis, often the corner of a stone block. Each grouping represents a sound. Robert Graves emphasised the correspondence of each letter with a tree, but this is his own focus on one small part of a complex mnemonic and symbolic system. Each ogham was associated with a whole web of correspondences from birds to colours to plants to poetic meters to trees to directions and so on. It exhibits a truly Celtic love of ingenuity in language, a multiple layering of meaning and metaphor that really aggravated the pragmatic rhetoric of the Roman Senate. So although trees were one aspect of the ogham it was not necessarily the primary system. Even the names given to the ogham letters are often clearly not the ancient names of trees, though they may reflect some of the metaphysical attributes of a certain tree, but this is not the same as saying ” this ogham letter represents this tree”, as modern commentators would often have us believe.

From my point of view an even greater difficulty was the internal contradictions and ambiguity, and the great variability of what tree represented what sound. Modern sources have tended to follow Graves and plump for a single, definitive tree ogham. This certainly is absent in the oldest known sources. And these sources themselves present anomalies that require careful consideration. For example, if these ogham tree lists are a truly ancient system of symbolic knowledge then they should only have trees listed that were indiginous to the Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. This is an important point. In the British Isles the native species of trees is around 39. What is counted as ‘native’ are those trees that repopulated the lands of Britain as the icecaps retreated about 11,000 years ago, and before the land bridge to Europe submerged preventing any further natural spread of species. The expansion followed the warming climate from south-east to north-west, primarily along river valleys and finally into the highlands. The last trees to slip past the barrier before rising sea levels finally shut the borders were hornbeam and beech, which gained a late foothold in Kent and the far south-east. One hopeful maple, (now confusingly called ‘Norway maple’ ) had the door slammed in its face and only made it as far as the Channel coast under its own steam. Of these 39 species a great many are varieties of willow! All other trees that we assume are natural to the landscape were either introduced later by human beings or had very limited native habitats. Thus to find ‘fir’ in an ogham list must be a later addition because fir trees, though native to the forests of Europe, were not native in these islands ( except before the Ice Ages). Scots pine may have had a natural spread through Britain at some periods, but in recorded times it seems to have really only been native to the Highlands of Scotland, being reintroduced back into England in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
There are some notable omissions from the Irish tree lists that may suggest an Irish-only origin for ogham. In mainland Britain, the forests were dominated by three species: oak, ash and lime. Lime never colonised Ireland and is also absent from the ogham lists. Lime is one of the most useful of trees, both medically and for making things. Its absence makes no sense in a pan-Celtic system. There are many other native trees of similar importance that are notable by their absence from the lists. I was going to list them down here, but of course, became bogged down with which lists to use, which variations, and so on. In other words, I came up against the brick walls that had originally decided me on a different approach!

I believed that to be relevant today, it was important to look beyond. The limitations of the ogham tradition, and its ancient authority, creates both advantages and disadvantages. One inherent disadvantage with “ancient knowledge” is that, unless the key to understanding the core of the system is maintained – which allows updating and flexibility – the information becomes fixed and dogmatic. The advantage with a rigid structure it that it breeds confidence. The purpose of every tradition is to maintain and pass on true and effective methods. The limited number of trees apparently included in ogham means that it is easier to focus on each one. Confusion is reduced, simplicity encouraged. However, with a finite, closed system ( especially dealing with arcane or esoteric knowledge), the inherent danger is always exclusivity and elitism. It encourages the concept that some trees are more important, more spiritual, more healing, more traditional, more ancient than others. The more limited a system, the more this tendency is likely to manifest ( the intolerance of monotheists in comparison to polytheists, for example). We generally strive to achieve the security of precedence. The longer something has been in existence the more genuine we feel that it is. This is an emotional reaction and defies all logic. As social animals we feel more secure following the crowd or adhering to an elite group ( a ‘special’ crowd).

So when I finally discarded the practicality of the ” druid trees”, I looked to the next group: native trees. Native trees are defined in Britain as those that reinhabited the land as the icecaps retreated. There are about 40…..

field maple1

field maple, a common woodland and hedgerow tree, the only native species of maple in Britain, absent from all ogham lists.

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gorse spray
(gorse flowers, now beginning to get a full spring polish on themselves)

A USEFUL PLACE

 

(A stance useful to bring to mind before all Tree Spirit Healing work)

 

1

Nothing in creation is isolated or alone. Every being is part of a seamless web of energy that flows, transmutes and modifies itself in the maintenance of dynamic balance.

 

Illness and disease arise when the systems of the body cannot locate the necessary information or energy for self-repair. Any method of healing simply helps the body to find what it requires for wellness.

 

Trees and other plants have always been our primary healers, and continue to be so today. They physically sustain us by balancing environmental factors (temperature, humidity, wind, the constituents of both the air and the earth), and their spiritual presence brings stability and equilibrium to all around them.

 

Trees, by their effortless balance, remind us of the calm spaciousness of our natural awareness, connected to the seamless flow of existence. Each tree species demonstrates a particular way of achieving balance so that, by linking to them in a very specific sequence a state of disorderliness, chaos and suffering can be alleviated within us.

 

2

Getting oneself into an appropriate frame of mind speeds the effectiveness of the healing and allows for clearer experiences. Becoming aware of our connection with the world, acknowledging that we cannot always do everything by our own efforts, allowing help to be offered and to be accepted, all soften up the brittle boundaries that are often put in place in an attempt to keep ourselves safe, but that really only isolate us further from a solution to our pains. Use those preliminary processes that feel most comfortable for you.

 

Take a moment to turn your attention to the breath. You do not need to change your breathing in any way – simply pay attention to the movement of air in and out of your lungs. This in itself will steady and calm both the body and the mind. If you find that there is some turbulence, open your mouth slightly and breathe through it. If you put your attention on the soft palette at the back of the mouth you will notice that, as you breathe in, the air feels cool there, but on the out-breath, there is no sensation. Simply stay with this experience for a moment or two until you feel calmer.

 

Imagine that you exist as a wave on an ocean of infinite waves, each unique and distinct from each other. Allow your attention to move away from the experience, sinking downwards towards the depths of the ocean. As you descend, your sense of self changes, expanding, becoming more aware of the unseen deep currents, and of other perspectives, other ways of being. You are still yourself, but more integrated with others, able to exchange information and energy easily. Stay at these deep levels until you feel calm and alert.

 

Take your attention to each of your senses in turn. Feel how your body is resting, where it is relaxed, where it is in tension. Adjust yourself so that you become more comfortable. As you breathe in, be aware of the scents and aromas around you, the temperature and feel of the air. Allow your eyes to relax, rest them where they are, just gazing at whatever you are looking at. Simply allow what you see to enter the eyes without the need to focus on anything in particular or to think about what is there. Now what sounds are you hearing? Open your hearing in the same way that you opened your sight. Simply let whatever sounds there are to register in your mind without focusing or dwelling on any of them. When you become aware of thoughts, treat them in exactly the same way – let them come and go on their own, simply keeping your awareness open and spacious.

 

3

The invitation.

 

Asking for help is acknowledging that no one is alone, that life flows from one being to another in an endless flow, that what is required is available when one knows where to look. So, open to ask for assistance from the tree spirits in some simple way. Use the feeling in your heart to simply call for help, or give a simple gesture like a bowing of the head or an opening out of the hands. Then wait for a moment or two before beginning the healing.

 

japanese camelia essence3

(Japanese camellia)

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mistyStrawberryTree

LEARNING TO GAZE

1)    Sit easily in a relaxed, upright position.

2)    Take a couple of deep breaths.

3)    Relax your face and your eyes. Allow them to find an angle of view which is relaxed and comfortable – a slightly downwards gaze is usually good.

4)    Put your attention on your vision, but do not focus your eyes on anything specific. Allow them simply to gaze in a relaxed manner, taking in whatever can be seen.
You may find you have a tendency to focus on something in particular, if so, just relax your sight once more or take your awareness to the edges of your area of vision (without moving the eyes at all). This usually helps to regain a relaxed, open sight.

5)    If you feel restless or unsettled give yourself something else to rest your attention upon.
Keeping your eyes relaxed, turn the attention to whatever you are hearing. See if you can relax your hearing in the same way as your vision – not distinguishing individual sounds or identifying them, but listening to all sounds that are happening simultaneously. (It is easy to forget that our hearing is as selective as our sight – recording the sounds in the room we are in clearly demonstrates how we habitually ignore many of the sounds around us that the machine cannot block out).
Alternatively, put your attention on the breath. There are various ways of doing this.
One of the easiest is simply to notice that, whilst breathing gently through a slightly opened mouth, the cool inbreath can be felt as it passes over the palette at the back of the mouth, whilst on the outbreath the warmed air cannot be felt at all.
Just a light attention on this phenomenon is enough to quieten the mind. Restlessness itself can be relaxed into.
Avoid the idea that physical, mental or emotional stillness is required. What is required for gazing is simply not to get absorbed by any sensation, thought or experience. Suppressing energy only stirs up more energy. Energy subsides by itself in its own time if you just allow it to.

6)     So simply remain, allowing sense impressions, thoughts, images, feelings, to come and go whilst you continue gazing in a relaxed way.Initially you might find it easier to close the eyes for a moment or two to settle yourself down, but it is then a good idea to open the eyes again, as it is easier to remain without drifting away into sleepiness or dream states.There is no need to do this exercise for long periods of time.Two or three minutes on a regular basis gets us used to being comfortable in a state of calm without focus, without activity, without the need to do anything other than register our life.

Looking at a gently changing scene can be helpful to gazing. Watching the surface of flowing water, looking at the changing clouds in the sky, or the leaves on a tree, grasses undulating in the wind, all help to establish a calm, trance (entranced) state.  The word ‘trance’ has come to mean ‘unaware’, ‘fooled’, unfocused’, whereas trance is really what gazing is all about. The state of trance (of which there are an endless variety of degrees of experience), is simply the turning of our attention away from the conscious, surface, language-based rational processes of the mind, towards a more open, relaxed and curious state of awareness. Ordinary awareness is one window we choose to look through. Sleep is another, dream is another, imagination is another, trance is another. All these states are natural to the human being and all are effortless to achieve. Once you have had a little experience with gazing you will appreciate how easily we can slip from one state of awareness to another in a smooth continual process. Gazing simply helps us to watch the world (internal and external), in a more neutral manner. We become less an individual experiencing and judging events (interpreting patterns), and more simply a location in time and space on the universal field witnessing local events. This sublimation, or turning away from individual judgemental thought is essential if we are to access tree spirit consciousness in useful ways. Gazing exercises help us to broaden out our experience. We become an experience happening, rather than someone having an experience.

pussy willow sky

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Tree Consciousness – on Silence.

Attaining a degree of silence is essential to any work with trees and tree spirits, ( in fact, with any work on subtle and meditative levels).

Silence, though, is not a reduction, not a shutting down or shutting out, not a restriction of thought, nor of the senses, the actions or the passions.

Silence is an opening out in order to include what appears not to be sound, what appears not to be self, what appears not to be sensation.

Silence happens with inclusiveness of what is not perceived. Thoughts don’t stop, feelings don’t stop, nothing changes. Except there is an addition in the self-awareness that all is occurring within a field existing beyond any object or percept.

We habitually seek out things, objects, names, identifiers. These are all in the foreground. Silence occurs when we also notice the background, the field within which our percepts reside.

When we stand in front of a tree, we need to see the tree behind the tree, the tree between the tree, the tree and the non-tree.

When we stand in front of the mind, we need to see the mind behind the mind, the mind between the mind, the mind that is the non-mind.

What is the non-tree? What is the non-mind? They are the silence that arises when we pay attention to what is not there, as well as to what is perceived as there.

Most, if not all, of the Tree Teacher Techniques in Tree Spirit Healing are ways to bring this silence to our awareness, either directly or indirectly. The next few posts will describe some of them. Beginning with Gazing.

20130214-215149.jpg

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Imagine a tree beginning as a seedling.

It starts to accumulate energy and begins to transmute the elements of light, water and earth.

It accumulates power within its structure.

As it grows more energy, power, information, consciousness is concentrated and can stay stable here for many hundreds of years.

These are stable energy fields within an ever-changing environment.

Slowly, as the tree eventually ages and dies, it releases that accumulated energy slowly back into the earth where it can be accessed again.

Visualise this process as if each tree were a  point of light or warmth.

Look down on the landscape alive with stable energy.

Small points growing bright over the centuries, spreading the light of energy into their surroundings, holding steady and then gradually becoming more diffuse and fading as other lights begin to glow bright.

Know that nothing else in this world can infuse the world with this light.

Everything relies on this continual dance for its survival and sustenance.

These are the power stations that need to be maintained.

weeping willow2

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