by Kathleen Horne, LMHC, REACE, REAT
This is a great question to engage with, as a pathway to self-awareness and understanding. It is a question for the imagination, not for the mind. When we immerse ourselves in the natural world, with embodied presence, open hearts, attuned senses, we learn so much. We remember that we are not separate – we ARE nature.
TRY THIS….Take a few moments to notice and pay close attention to a tree in your immediate landscape. How does it grow – straight and tall? Curving outward to a wide reach? How deep are its roots? What is the texture of its bark? The size and shape of its leaves? How does this tree speak of the season of spring? Dig a little deeper and ask….what does this tree have to teach me about myself this morning? Take a moment to write your observations down in your journal or make a quick sketch.
Consider the trees that hold your own memories, the trees that live in the landscapes of your own life, the trees that have witnessed you, as you have witnessed them.
“Forests hide wonders we are only just beginning to explore.” Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
Is there a tree that is part of your daily life? A tree in your yard, in a nearby park, or in the woods?
TRY THIS…..”Stand in front of the tree and simply take it in with all your senses. Let go of any thoughts or labels – like what kind of tree it is, or how old it is. Allow your eyes to wander from the roots, to the trunk, branches, leaves, and canopy. Interest will arise when you pay close attention to every detail, as if this were the first time you were seeing a tree….After some time, begin to explore the tree intimately with all of your senses. Close your eyes and engage your sense of smell. Notice the scent of the bark, the leaves, and the roots. Then engage the sense of touch, closing your eyes and allowing your hands to explore the tree, like you would the skin of a lover or the contours of a face….Feel every nook and cranny of the bark, and any moss or ferns that may be living on the tree. Feel the strength and solidity of the tree in your body – feel the density of the earth element. Sense how the roots sink into the earth. Touch the leaves with your fingers, palms, and the skin of your face.” (Mark Coleman, Awake in the Wild, 2006)
Coleman invites us to pay close attention, cultivate mindfulness, and engage beginner’s mind, as we discover the tree as a pathway to discover and embody our inter-connectedness with Nature, and experience ourselves as part of the greater whole.
Peter London (Drawing Closer to Nature) leads us into encounters with nature through close observation, guided imagery, and visual art explorations. “A tree – the behemoth of the green world. The oldest living thing. The tallest living thing. The strongest living thing.” London likens trees to wizened grandparents who watch over our human antics, enduring and silent. He says: The analogy between the personalities of trees as displayed by their forms and habits of growth and the personalities of humans as displayed by their cast of mind and consequential behaviors, has been observed throughout literature and theologies. In the Kabbalah, the divine order of the universe is symbolized by the Tree of Life, with its emanations correlated with spiritual attributes and parts of the human body.” (London, Drawing Closer to Nature, 2003)
The arts, and, especially the expressive arts (visual art, movement, voice, rhythm, music, writing, poetry, enactment, photography, meditation) connect us with ourselves, and with the natural world that we are part of.
Art is a pathway to remembering what many indigenous cultures knew. “In many indigenous cultures there was no word for nature, because indigenous people did not experience outer wilderness as some “thing” separate and distinct from themselves; instead, they lived immersed within it.” (Coleman, 2006)
Back to the question:
TRY THIS…. Do this outdoors, and barefoot, if you are comfortable with that.
Stand, with your feet solidly planted on the ground. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Tune in to the cycle of your breath, allowing your breath to take your point of awareness more deeply inside. Imagine roots growing from the soles of your feet down into the earth. How wide do they spread? How deep do they go? Feel the energy of the earth moving up through those roots and into your body, moving up through your core, your trunk, your spine, your limbs, up into your neck, your head, and continuing up and out the top of your head and into the sky, the heavens. Continue breathing deeply and imagine that energy coming back down from the sky and in through the top of your head, moving back down through your entire body and back into your roots, and the earth. Stand. Breathe. Grounded. Embodied. Here. Fully alive. Present. Notice the temperature of the air, the breeze on your skin, the sounds around you. Notice how your feet feel as they connect with the ground. Begin to more fully imagine yourself as a tree – sense your roots…your trunk….your limbs, branches. Feel the life blood of the earth within you. Sense the girth of your trunk. Notice…how tall are you? How do you grow? Straight up? Branching out widely, creating shade? Allow any movement to come in response. Allow your arms to express the way your branches grow, and move. Be curious about your leaves – what do they look like when they are still, and how do they move in the breeze, or the strong winds? What about your flowers, your fruits? What happens as the seasons change? Take a few more moments to experience yourself as a tree, allowing yourself to be curious, and even surprised. Then move to your art materials, and discover your tree on paper. Allow its form and color to emerge spontaneously. It may resemble an actual tree, or your imagination may bring into form something brand new. Take as much time as you need. Then write, starting with the words “I am” in the voice of the tree.
After you have completed this experience, ask yourself:
Share, if you like, on our FB page, Your Personal Expressive Arts Practice.
DO YOU WANT MORE OF THIS?
Tamara Teeter Knapp and I are facilitating The Landscape of Expressive Arts at Hollyhock, B.C., May 31 to June 5. You will immerse yourself in the pristine natural setting, and explore the expressive arts as means to connect your inner landscape with the outer landscape. You will engage in art, movement, writing, sound, rhythm, meditation, both indoors and outdoors. You will discover places in the landscape – ocean, beach, forest and garden – that call out to you and invite you deeper into them, and deeper in to yourself. Over the 5 days, you will reflect on all of your experiences in the creation of a personal tree that contains and embodies your journey.
The image below is from last year’s Hollyhock Workshop. This year, in this brand new workshop, you will be creating a ‘life-sized’ tree, instead of a self-portrait. Imagine….
Coleman, Mark: Awake in the Wild, Inner Ocean Publishing, 2006
London, Peter: Drawing Closer to Nature, Shambhala, 2003