The Tree (4/16/2005)

The old treeThe tree had seen many seasons pass by.  Its days as a young sapling were barely a memory. It had lived through many times of change, and survived many years, to grow into a fully formed master of the jungle, multi-branched and majestic in its span, held up by a strong and solid trunk, and fed by its well-spread and efficient roots that picked up nourishment from Mother Earth.

As a young plant growing up the thick woods, there was an element of uncertainty about its ability to survive. There were times when there was a doubt whether it would make it through the season, or even through the day. In those days, it did not have the strength and the knowledge to endure on its own. It was dependent on the creatures that lived around it, it was dependent on the earth and the skies – it was even dependent on the winds that blew through its young and growing branches.

But now it was a mature and strong ruler of its domain. It had seen many things, and gone through many experiences, both good and bad. It had become a wise one. (Of course, it had not traveled far and wide. It was a tree, for heavens sake!) It had known troubles and setbacks, and survived to fight another day. It had seen change, both in itself and in the things around it. It had known both happiness and sadness. It had experienced the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, it had withstood many a storm that shook its trunk and threatened the very core of its existence. When one of its branches suffered, perhaps from a bolt of lightning, or perhaps from an illness in its leaves, the tree found a way to survive. It could thank its strong roots and its other healthy branches that worked to keep it alive – each branch vibrant with the new leaves of spring, the flowers of summer, the multicolored hues of fall, and the whites of winter. The birds resting on its generous branches, singing happy songs, gave it pleasure. It had learned that the dark and gloomy winter that left it cold and shivering, would eventually be replaced by the rebirth in Spring. It knew that if trouble came to pass, it could survive because it had survived similar troubles in the past. Nothing could bother it. And it wished to be sure that its wisdom was passed along to the young ones.

It wanted to make sure that these young ones, the seeds that grew into saplings, and the saplings that grew into stronger plants, and then into trees, would know how to face the world, and also learn to recognize the gifts provided by the earth. It wished to show them the safe path amidst the dangers that lurked, and it also wished to help them experience all the good things that it had itself experienced. It knew that it had to be patient in its endeavors, and that it would not always be successful. It also knew that there would be a time when it could teach no more. It watched over the seed that had fallen far away, and hoped that it would still be able to learn in spite of its distance – that it would still listen, that it would realize that nothing survives in this world on its own.

It knew that its time would eventually pass, and that its roots would not be able to sustain it forever, but this bothered it little. It had survived to see what it wanted to see, and experience what it wanted to experience, and it had left its legacy behind in the trees and plants that had risen from its seed. It had helped many a creature of the woods, whether it was one that needed protection, or even some food, or whether it was one that just needed a comfortable trunk to rub itself against to remove the itch from its back. It had served its purpose and had left its mark on this earth! It did not matter if it happened to be cut down the next day. It did not matter if a flood washed it away along with its roots during the next thunderstorm. It was content.

A Holy Place

I am trying to find a way to describe the experience I have when I head out on my run on a late afternoon and enter the woods behind the elementary school near my home. It is difficult to find the words to express what happens to my state of mind at this point.  I enter the trail into the woods from relatively open space next to the school and the next thing I know is that I am in a space that leaves me transformed in mind and spirit. All of a sudden I find myself surrounded by the tall trees that form a green canopy; trees that let the sunlight filter in through in random spots to light up random leaves on random trees and plants, and random spots on the forest floor; trees that also provide a deep cooling shade that envelopes you.  All of a sudden one feels at peace, and at the same time both relaxed and energized.

Being an engineer by training, my thoughts have been turning analytical at this point in time.  A unique aspect of this experience is that my mind is impacted in the same manner regardless of how many times I repeat the routine.  Why is this remarkable, you ask?  It is notable to me because my general observation is that experiences tend to be more exciting when you go through them for the first time, but if you repeat them often enough, the novelty wears off. Even though you might continue to enjoy the experience, things feel a little bit different from that first time, and some of what you continue to do becomes part of a habit.  As a rather extreme example of the sentiment I am trying to express, one could pose the following question.  If you saw the Grand Canyon every day, would you feel the same sense of wonder after many years as you did on the first day.  Not to say that the sense of awe would go away, but I am sure that some of the emotional impact of the experience would tend to change over time, wouldn’t it.

This particular running experience I am talking about is most certainly not as grand as seeing the Grand Canyon, but it is more about the feeling you get when you are transported instantly into different state of mind every single time, even though you are repeating the routine frequently.  When it happens you forget about everything else instantly, and you are struck by a sense of wonder, maybe even ecstasy, that is hard to define.  And it is achieved without the benefit of external chemical stimulants.:-)  As a runner who explores a lot of spaces and always enjoys doing what I do, I have to say that there is something different going on in the head in this particular instance. Is it the endorphins on steroids, figuratively speaking?

As you can see, I have been pondering how one would characterize this kind of experience for some time.  I have also been thinking about the possibility of people having a somewhat similar experience in a different setting.  The only thing that came to mind is the state of mind of some people who enter a place of worship.  People enter a different place in their minds. Perhaps it is also possible to also get transported to this state of mind if one were to meditate.  I looked around on the Internet for the definition of a Holy place.  The most relevant description that I came across in this particular context was that a place becomes holy when it is specially linked to God.  If one continued along this thread of thought, you could perhaps get caught up in a contemplation of the nature of God, and your conclusion, if you had one, would of course depend on your point of view.  But I think that that particular thought process would be beside the point in this particular instance.  This is primarily about the state of mind that one tends to experience.  Perhaps I am in a Holy place when I run along these trails and have the experience I am describing.

I have a similar experience when running in a different part of the woods further along in this loop that I cover regularly, when the nature of my surroundings changes from that of the trees that are plentiful in this area to a vision of thin and tall evergreens all around me, a scene that is less common in these parts.  The mind is indeed transformed by the physical process that leads to the visual change, and perhaps it is that the process that is important to note in this context.

Having thought about this often enough, I decided to do an experiment to find out if it would be possible to capture the feeling that I have so far tried to express in words in pictures.  I carried my camera bag during one of my runs and made a game attempt at capturing the story with the camera.  Needless to say, pictures do not necessarily tell the tale, just as words themselves do not quite get to the heart of the matter.

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