Living in rural Shropshire I love being surrounded by the most magnificent trees, of all shapes and sizes, ages, and genus. A legacy of growing up in the countryside, as since a young age I have always felt a deep connection and calming presence when I am amongst the trees.
I remember a particularly gnarly old oak tree that offered shade and shelter during rain or shine. Somewhere to sit or hide depending upon my mood. It was an amazing tree so full of character, deeply rooted and giver of life.
Years later, I discovered the work of the poet Mary Oliver who writes about her own soulful and heartfelt connection, and love of nature. For me, there is something incredibly special about Oliver’s poetry. It expresses so much of our inner capacity to feel and experience the inherent beauty in the world.
I find her words a powerful invitation when inquiring into how we can learn so much about ourselves by spending time and paying attention to nature. For me, the shapes, forms, textures, colours, relationships, and ways of organising are a living playbook, which illustrates the innumerable generative ways we can make our own lives feel more connected and alive.
If you have never read Oliver’s work then I would encourage you to begin right here, with “When I am among the trees.” In this particular poem, Oliver encourages us to take a moment and slow down; to notice the delicacy and intimacy of our natural environment, and in this creative process become aware of the living breathing world that we are all a part of, and representative of our interconnectedness.
In many ways Oliver’s words, expressed through her poetic imagination, can be perceived as simple instructions for living a full life, enriched by being in relationship with the natural world.
In her words;
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Now, I invite you to read the poem again, and this time linger over the words and phrases, consider how the imagery evokes sensations that all of us have every day and maybe even more so, at this present moment in our collective history.
We can easily forget how fast life goes by and how fragile it is. Many daily distractions take us far away from an inner core of goodness and self-compassion that is rooted in stillness. Which we often sense but find elusive to embody. Instead we choose to ignore our true nature and reject who we really are. But by lingering awhile, taking a deliberate pause to tune into our own experience, we can develop our inner capacities to recover our feelings of peacefulness and well being that we always carry with us.
Oliver’s claim that the trees save her might sound rather strange and you might wonder save her from what? But like so many of us, to be saved from ourselves, Oliver understands that she must open herself to the world and become vulnerable through connection. To do this she accesses her felt sense through deepening her observation, and invites us to also pay attention, linger for a while to look beyond the usual.
To be open to all the world presents us with and allowing oneself to be vulnerable through connection can be difficult to access. I know that this is true in my own story and by staying with the images I am able to find my way back, to the source of my connection. Often this can feel uncomfortable and unnerving, but I have learnt to recognise these sensations as an integral aspect of my creative composition and process.
So, in my understanding, ‘The trees stir in their leaves’ is Oliver offering a clue from nature about how we can all inhabit the capacity to look deeper, to imagine not leaves stirring in trees but trees stirring in leaves.
Likewise, the tree’s invitation to ‘Stay awhile’ encourages us to pause and reflect on whatever may catch our attention. It maybe the bark that Oliver sees, or the pulp she does not. Maybe it is the roots and soil that nourish the tree, all of which give life to the leaves.
Finally, Oliver’s image of, ‘The light flows from their branches,’ captures a precious moment of wholeness when she becomes aware that she, in her relationship to the trees, is being touched by a life force, a soulfulness that animates us all.
Imagine when you might next take a stroll through the woods and what the trees might choose to tell you? And, what you might choose to tell the trees? You might find yourself surprised by what you learn and discover. I know that I always am, and I trust that in their own way the trees are too.
I specialise in weaving together, stories, images & nature connection practices to help people access their true nature, strengthen their creative fluency and increase their sense of wellness, and wellbeing in the world.