The Wisdom of Trees - Recognizing Our Mutual Dependence



Growing up in southern California, the land of the palm tree, the beauty and majesty of trees and the forest was unknown to me until moving to the Pacific Northwest. I've known for a while now that the trees have had a message to deliver to us. They have been calling to me, I just did not know exactly what they wanted to convey. Finally, I know! They want to convey to us the importance of mutual dependence and interconnection. The spiritual community talks a lot about how we are all connected. Sometimes that statement is just so vague and impersonal it is hard to grasp the reality of it. Especially when you might be looking at your phone and wondering how what you are doing at this exact moment could possibly be affecting someone half way around the world. Suppose while you are looking at your phone you like someone's post, that in turn gives a little lift to the person who created the post, then they are in a better mood and treat the people they encounter during their day with a little more kindness, which in turn lifts those people as well, and the cycle just expands from there. As Isaac Newton stated, "for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction." Mutual dependence is defined as a state of being, in which two or more individuals have control over each other, because they share some kind of reliance on each other. This is the lesson presented by the trees, to understand and embrace our reliance on each other, we are not an island.

Trees have been around for 400,000,000 years and have survived all four recorded extinction events. They have not accomplished this feat through luck alone. Trees are connected through an underground mycorrhizal (fungi) network. Through this network, trees are able to communicate with each other and share resources with each other. This resource sharing is not a self-less act, but one based on self-preservation. When trees are removed from the forest, through logging, weather events, or fire, adult trees will share water and nutrients through the fungal network with smaller saplings and seedlings in order to fill in the open spaces that have been created. It benefits the older trees to maintain the tree canopy in order to maintain soil moisture and temperature. The trees work together.

Human beings share this relationship of mutualism with each other, whether we are aware of it or not. We are all connected through a great big energetic network. When we perform an action that is kind, and is in the interest of all, the effects of that action ripple outwards and benefit the whole. We are in a relationship of mutualism with every other person on this planet, but also with all of the other inhabitants of this beautiful planet as well.

Trees maintain a relationship of mutual dependence not just with each other, but also with the animals and insects they live with (that includes us). There are many examples I could choose to speak about to demonstrate this interdependence, but since they have become such an important part of my life, I will talk about squirrels. When I was living in California, I never really saw many squirrels, maybe the occasional rock squirrel at the beach, but that was it. When we moved to Oregon, we unknowingly moved into a squirrel habitat. At first, we were annoyed with these animals that kept trying to eat the food we put out for the birds. But as the months passed, we started to appreciate their quirkiness and intelligence. Hardwood forests would not exist without these animals! Squirrels spend much of their time burying the nuts that these trees produce, and without that action there would be no new seedlings of these trees. The trees provide food, shelter, and a playground for these animals. In this way, the two species work together.

Trees and humans also have a mutually beneficial relationship. Trees are the lungs of this planet. They provide the oxygen that we breathe and clean the air of harmful pollutants. We in turn provide the trees with the carbon dioxide they need to complete the process of photosynthesis. Without trees we would not have enough oxygen to sustain life on this planet for very long. It is timely to be writing about this while the planet is in the middle of a pandemic that has such a strong negative affect on the lungs. It is of the utmost importance that we develop a deeper understanding of the reciprocal relationship we have with the natural world, and improve our stewardship of this planet we have been given.

The gift of the tree is not just one of simple respiration. Many trees have been on this planet for hundreds of years. As every physical thing holds energy, these older trees are repositories of healing energy. These old trees are known as the 'mother trees'. Through the fungal network that connects them, these trees share their healing energy with the other trees and plants nearby. One way to develop a deeper relationship with the natural world is through a practice called forest bathing. Forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku, is the process of consciously losing oneself in the healing embrace of the forest, of reconnecting with mother nature and restoring our natural biorhythms. To place your hands on the trunk of a tree, or your bare feet on the soil around the base of a tree will ground and calm you almost immediately. When we truly reconnect with Gaia there is an opportunity for profound physical and emotional healing to occur. Go hug a tree, take a walk in the forest, breathe the fresh air there, and see what kind of magic is waiting for you.

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