Ah…trees, possibly my favourite things! Where would we be without these Standing Sentinels? Without trees there could be no life on earth (along with water and the sun too of course). Trees perform a wonderful and most important service to not only mankind but All-kind. Trees are the ‘lungs of the planet, with the Amazon rainforest alone producing 20% of world oxygen. Think of that! Without trees we would asphyxiate and die.
How do trees produce this life-giving gas? Well, it’s through the action of photosynthesis, which is how trees, and all green plants in fact, produce energy from light by means of chlorophyll that is contained in their leaves (the green pigment that makes leaves green!). They use the sunlight and the chlorophyll to make sugars from carbon dioxide (which they breathe in through their leaves during the day) and water. This sugar is then used to give the plant energy so that it can grow. The tree then gives off oxygen, which is the gas we breathe in so we can live. So our existence is inextricably linked to trees.
Trees also support a multitude of other plant and animal life too. There are many animals that just could not exist in the wild without trees, and trees also support numerous mosses and lichens that are important to the ecosystem. For example, one hectare (2.47 acres) of rainforest may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of animals and higher plants. Scientists and botanists are also continually finding new species of plants and animals that rely on trees for life.
Trees are a wonderful source of medicine and food, producing fruit, flowers, leaves and bark that can all be utilised in some way for our holistic well-being. Consider the many different species we have in Great Britain, practically all of them have some value medicinally. One fantastic example is that little white pill so often taken for headaches, the one called Aspirin. If it wasn’t for a tree that might never have been developed. The bark (and to a certain extent the leaves) of the White Willow (Salix alba) contain a chemical called salicin* that eases aches and pains, and reduces fevers. Hippocrates noticed this back in the 5th century BC. However, it was being used far earlier by the Cherokee and other native American tribes. Eventually the chemical was isolated and became known as salicylic acid and was then synthesized in laboratories and brand-named Aspirin. This is just one example of how trees help us medicinally, there are hundreds more.
Trees not only give to us for our physical well-being but also our spiritual well-being. A tree of life, or Sacred Tree, is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies; a mystical concept alluding to the interconnection of all life on our planet. It connects the Heavens (or upper world), the middle world, and the underworld; the three realms. For those with a spiritual leaning it helps to connect us with all other sentient beings (and that includes the spirit realm) and negates the idea of separation.
Due to the longevity of trees they are sources of great knowledge and wisdom. They’ve stood, in some cases, for hundreds of years – can you imagine what they’ve witnessed throughout their long lives? In Celtic tradition, trees play an important part in disseminating knowledge and wisdom to us humans. Probably the most well-known use of trees in this tradition is the Ogham (pronounced OH-am or OH-yam) or Celtic Tree alphabet. This is an alphabet of twenty-five inscribed characters, each one symbolising a tree sacred to the ancient druids of old. Each symbol (which is an upright stave with particular straight markings on it) symbolises a letter, the character of a tree, its place within Celtic spirituality and mythology and its attributes both for daily living, healing and spiritual working. It is also used as a system of divination whereby the wisdom of the trees help us in our daily living and inner work.
Just spending time with trees is a meditative process in itself. To sit under a large, leafy tree on a summer’s day and gaze up into its branches can imbue us with peace and clarity. To hug a tree is even better!
A Tree Meditation
Sit comfortably…relax…close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breaths.
Now begin to clear your mind by concentrating only on your breathing…count your breaths slowly up from 1 to 10. If thoughts intrude do not force them away but return to concentrating on your breathing.
You are standing in a sun-dappled clearing in a wood. Around you trees stand like sentinels, their branches covered with the lush greenery of summer. Leaves whisper and rustle, kissed by a zephyr breeze that blows gently around and through them. The carpet of emerald grass beneath you is soft as velvet. In your nostrils wafts the delicate fragrance of summer flowers. All is quiet except for the sound of the leaves and birds singing in the branches of the trees.
As you stand there, the sun’s rays gently warming you, you begin to feel the grass part beneath your feet. The soft, rich soil gives way and you feel yourself sinking down into the earth. Soon your lower legs are completely surrounded by the cool earth. You feel your feet reach down into the earth, becoming roots that dig deeper and spread out anchoring you solidly into the ground. At the same time you raise your arms towards the sun and they begin to turn into branches, your fingers become twigs reaching ever upwards towards the sky. Soon leaves begin to appear, sprouting and growing vigorously all over you, rustling with the soft breeze that blows around you and through you…you have become a tree.
You begin to feel your feet pulse with energy from the earth and with each breath in this energy is drawn up…up your toes…your feet…up your legs…towards your body. This is the energy of Gaia and it flows and swirls all through your body as a vibrant green mist, entering every cell…filling you up with the nurturing strength of Mother Earth.
The sun’s rays shine down upon you and enter your crown chakra where they flow towards your centre as a golden mist, filling every part of you with the powerful energy of the God. Every cell in your body is filled with golden light…energising and invigorating you.
The two energies meet and merge within you…swirling around and through each other…mixing their powerful energies…every part of you is filled and sustained by the Goddess and the God.
Breathe deeply and feel these energies become one…flowing through you as life-blood through your veins.
Now begin to gradually count your breaths down from 10 to 1…focusing on your breathing only. When you are ready open your eyes and know that divine energy is within you and remains in you…sustaining you and giving you the energy you need to see you through.
*Salicin is also found in other plants such as Meadowsweet and many common fruits and vegetables.