Learning from Trees

In Greece, at the corner of the church square near my school, there was a solitary evergreen tree, a pittosporum tobira, rising triumphantly from the concrete; when it blossomed, it filled the whole square with its scent, and every evening, before I walked home or joined friends in a seaside taverna, I’d stand under it and breathe it in like a prayer. I still remember the deep brown eyes of the young man who first told me its local name in Greek – angelikí – as he plucked a waxy white blossom and silently gave it to me.

All through my life, no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had favourite trees. I just didn’t realise it until I was sitting in tears, in a supermarket car park the other day, parked under what I’ve been thinking of these last few years as The Crying Tree. Often, after visits to my my 91 year old dad’s house, to do his shopping, or take him out, I park there till I’m calm and collected enough for the long drive home, along narrow, winding roads, through hills and valleys that require full concentration. Stuck there in a city, between a fenced off car park and a busy road, with nothing but scraggy, prickly bushes at its feet for company, it seems to understand the overwhelm, exhaustion and stuckness that can come from being a sandwich generation daughter, a menopausal mother whose teenagers have recently left home. Yet it expects nothing, asks for nothing in return for its constancy and sheltering branches.

When I got home, and logged on, I found this excerpt from Cigdem Kobu’s Homecoming course in my inbox.

(Excerpt from Bäume, Betrachtungen und Gedichte, Hermann Hesse)

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.

And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.


  1. Just to let you know that my theme/server/webhosting nightmare is still ongoing, but this post was already in the draft box so I thought I’d free it.

    Also, there’s a new page in my menu/navigation bar called ‘Soul Guides’ if you’re in need of some inspiration or in the mood for uplifting poetry. I’m very proud of the quote rotator – even though I’ve only had time to add a few quotes on the theme of journeys home.

  2. Hi Janice – what a very interesting post from Cigdem Kobu … I’ve joined her email Monday letter.

    Re your father and the time you share and give him … these times are so exhausting for anyone – and I know you will feel more than many … he’s so grateful and that is so important to you – and will be in due time: you’ll realise the energy you are expending is unimanginably valuable to him.

    I’m so glad you’ve found a ‘sancutary’ where to sit and mull your thoughts, sitting out the silent storm … so that that journey home can be safe.

    The tree analogy … the spreading branches giving cover and moral support to stay under, the roots leading down into the earth to garner succour for us, the knowledge the tree possesses … the peace it exudes around the madness that surrounds it … the interruptions of crowds and life – yet giving you some settling stability to pluck up courage and slowly make your way home.

    Thank I’ve downloaded your Coaching Moments E-book … looks wonderful to read … and now I go up towards your soul guides to explore those …

    With many thoughts – Hilary
    Hilary recently posted…West Country Tour … Emily Hobhouse (1860 – 1926) … part 22My Profile

    1. Hi Hilary,
      I think you’ll love Cigdem’s work. She’s a real star, gifted and kind, savvy but still authentic. I received her Homecoming course as a gift and really enjoyed it. That’s one of the things I love about online connections, the synchronicity, the pleasure you get clicking a link and feeling like the internet has read your mind and given you something you need. A sweet example of this? I’m learning to become philosphical about my {0} comments posts, but it’s made my day that you’ve visited and that you found something useful – I was just about to email you and see what’s been going on behind the scenes.

      The photo of the olive tree I used in the middle of the excerpt was taken in the car park next to the place we stayed in Greece, the year before last. It made me inexplicably happy parking next to it every day; SO much history in its gnarled trunk, yet there it stood, quite happy to offer its shade to our wee hire car. What a tale of survival it could have told.

      Thank you for all your support, Hilary – I’m a deciduous blogger, but you, m’dear, are an evergreen.

  3. You’re Celtic, it’s no wonder you feel so deeply connected to trees. We Celts developed an entire astrology-like system based around trees and the time of year we were born. You can learn more about it here: http://www.whats-your-sign.com/celtic-tree-astrology.html

    I was born under the sign of the Ash tree. To quote the above website, “Those born under the Celtic tree astrology sign of the Ash are free thinkers. Imaginative, intuitive, and naturally artistic, you see the world in water-color purity. You have a tendency to moody and withdrawn at times, but that’s only because your inner landscape is in constant motion. You are in touch with your muse, and you are easily inspired by nature. Likewise, you inspire all that you associate with and people seek you out for your enchanting personality. Art, writing (especially poetry), science, and theology (spiritual matters) are areas that strongly interest you. Others may think you are reclusive, but in all honesty, you are simply immersed in your own world of fantastic vision and design. You are in a constant state of self-renewal and you rarely place a value on what others think about you.”

    Is that me or is that me!

    It’s in our Celtic blood. It’s druidic, it’s magical, and it’s beautiful. Trees, like animals, can teach us a lot. Maybe I should spend more time in nature… 😉

    1. Oh my goodness! If this was a real bistro, I’d have dropped the glass I was drying behind the bar when I spotted you sitting smiling in the corner…so good to have you back over here! We first comment box chatted in 2008, but it seems like yesterday! Next time you comment, use a live weblink so we can all see what you’ve been up to. 😉 Did you notice I let go of Thesis?

      Thanks for the brilliant link – I spent so long having a root through it, I forgot to come back and reply to your comment! 😉 Your tree astrology has jaw droppingly accurate bits, especially your apparent reclusive tendencies when you’re actually in self-renewal phases. My tree and animal totems were weirdly accurate, too. I love symbols and metaphors, pattern language and personality exploration – despite a modicum of cynicism if folk go overboard and spend more time analysing themselves and looking for synchronicity than they do living – but I also think it’s healthy if folk read these ways of acknowledging our shared traits and think “That’s so not me!” We can only do that if we have healthy self awareness. I think personality analyses can be fun and helpful if we read them with non-judgemental curiosity, and a willingness to embrace our strengths and be philosophical about our ‘challenges’.

      You’re right about the Celts embracing magic and spirituality and the power of nature, despite our reputation for being dour races. I stood washing dishes today at the kitchen window, as I often do, learning from birds. So I’d agree – get yourself out there with a camera today… do some communing!

    1. Hi Ivan. Thank you. Cigdem Kobu is the creator of Peaceful Triumphs and she has all sorts of inspiring courses and free materials over there.

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