Updated: Jul 2, 2019
A new year is almost upon us and, once again, people will be making resolutions they won't keep more than a few weeks. The hopes are often about weight, drinking, exercise or work efforts; all laudable. But where can we find something inspiring, that helped Walt Whitman through his dark times, that may help us, too? The source may surprise you.
Fashions in everything come and go. Some of them have to do with the "latest" therapies to heal our bodies and minds. Often, what they do is enrich a few and leave their followers still seeking the "knowledge" and the "authenticity" they hoped to bring to their lives while trying to live on a new path.
Where do these gurus, life coaches, masters get their ideas and are any of them truly, 100% useful? Anyone remember Werner Erhard (aka John Rosenberg) and his est cult? Obviously, some may benefit somewhat, some will believe they've found the answer and will go forth preaching this new gospel of health and happiness. Sometimes, the guru will be revealed for what he or she is; a sham interested in personal enrichment through salesmanship.
But one source of inspiration and a reason to go through the darkest of times (Whitman had a debilitating stroke at 54), is closer than you think and you don't have to sign up, no contracts, no need for weekly "classes" or strange meditations, nothing but looking. Whitman found it in the beauty and mystery of trees, the things that are our life's blood of existence.
We owe trees more than we admit and yet we continue to devalue and "slaughter" them by the thousands. Consider the Amazon if you need an illustration of our madness regarding trees. Look at the Monarch butterfly areas that will be bulldozed for corporate interests, forget about us.
Questioning as we do, we sentient beings think we've arrived at all the answers or, if we haven't, the next guru to come down the pike will have the answer or we can dismiss the question entirely. I don't need to go on at length about climate change deniers.
What did Whitman find in trees? A wonderful article written by the prolific and incredibly dedicated weekly writer, Maria Popova, delves into the question of trees.
Whitman found comfort in the forest and the trees that provided an incredible sense of power and community. He wasn't alone in his wonder at what we now call the "nonhuman consciousness" of trees and plants which "speak" to us via their scents and also their ability to respond to changes in the environment.
Now science has discovered that trees may work in a communal manner to afford each other support through their intertwining root systems or the growing of fungus which may help to nurture individual trees. Is it possible that trees have some incredible ability to communicate without language, without any awareness, as we know awareness, of our world? What can trees teach us? The author of "The Hidden Life of Trees," tells us trees have an ability to teach us, if only we will look and listen.
Obviously, listening in our sense of the word is not what will work here. Were we to ask if trees can hear or if we can listen to them, I'm sure my colleagues in the mental health community would stand straight up and wonder about your sanity. After all, we are not about listening to trees, but listening to people and that may be where we err.
You might wish to read Peter Wohlleben’s book and consider trees and forest a bit differently. We know that “forest bathing” has become increasingly important in conditions of both mental and physical health. Is it merely being in the serene surroundings or is something else going on?
I can remember sitting in a biology class many decades ago and, as we were looking at plant specimens, specifically very unsophisticated cells in water vegetation, one of the students asked a question that made us all stare at her. "Do you suppose," she said, "that carrots scream when we pull them from the ground?"
What do you think the majority of us felt about her question? Yes, we thought she had been studying a little too long and needed to get out into the world more often. If the question was ludicrous then, we may now have a different appreciation of her thinking, but are we asking new questions or just repeating the old ones?
Plants bend their structures to seek out light and water. The action is called a tropism and we toss it off as a biological process, but what lies beneath that bending? Scientists have even discovered that plants have a memory mechanism. What causes it to happen and is there something which we are refusing to recognize? Don’t think I’m about to join the Mad Hatter’s Club here. I am posing questions that are of increasing interest to science.
Promise yourself one thing only this coming year and that is to get out and walk in a field, or a forest or any wooded area that is quiet. Listen to the trees and allow yourself to commune with them and benefit from what they provide to you, asking nothing in return other than that you respect them and allow them to flourish.