The Listening of Trees

I grew up in a small East Coast town where neighbors kept an eye on all the kids. I rode my bike or roller skated everywhere (without a helmet,) and spent most of every day outside. Most of the time I just wandered around, dropping pebbles into streams, watching the cardinals who had built a nest in our back yard raise their young, and sitting in the comforting limbs of a great Copper Beech tree that presided over our front yard. This tree was my oldest and dearest friend. I told it everything. It listened patiently, generously, without judgement, to all of the tender outpourings of my eight year old heart.

My parents always said I was the “easy child,” the one who never gave them problems. While my older brother raged, acted out, and got into endless trouble, I remained calm. What the adults didn’t know was that I was beset by anxiety, confusion, sadness, and uncertainty. But the tree knew my every thought. And because the tree “got me,” I had an unshakeable faith that things would work out somehow. So in spite of a distant father, a critical mother, and a bullying brother, I grew up happy. I owe this to my tree.

In shamanic cultures all over the world this crucial relationship with trees is recognized and cultivated. In some villages of the Huichol Indians of Mexico, young men and women “wed” a tree for four years before they are considered ready for marriage. In this four year relationship, they pour out all their desires, their longings, their successes and failures, during regular visits to their tree. In this process of working out projections, they mature and are able to come to their human partnerships with a remarkable soulfulness and equanimity.

A few years ago I took a pilgrimage to Cornwall in the southwest of England, land of my ancestors, and rediscovered my Copper Beech. I was not expecting this, indeed hadn’t even thought of that tree for years, since I now live in California where this particular species doesn’t appear. But as I wandered through the ruined abbey of Glastonbury, there it was–enormous, serene, beckoning to me from atop the hill. I walked up to it and, much to my astonishment, burst into great sobs as I rested my head against its ancient trunk. I remembered it. Remembered how it took care of me as a child, listened to me, befriended me.

I spent several hours that day, sitting with my back against the trunk of the Copper Beech. I came home from that encounter having made a pact to help people reconnect with their own souls; restoring the lost connection with nature, and most especially, with trees.

In my shamanic training programs, the practice of listening to the spirits of nature is emphasized. And trees speak so much more slowly than we are used to. It takes patience to sit under a tree for hours, and listen to its wisdom. It takes time to pour out your heart to a tree. But what a world this would be if we could renew this ancient and precious relationship.

Narrye Caldwell’s in-depth eight month shamanic training program starts in November. Check the Events section of this website for details. Space is limited, so please apply early if you’re interested.

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