I completed my degree at the university site which mainly catered for people pursuing degrees in the Arts, both graphic and dramatic and my first real encounter with the drama students was of a cohort out on the field exploring what it was to “be a tree” through interpretive movement/dance. I was reminded of this recently when my youngest went out into the garden and I was surprised to find her stood (still!) in the corner, her arms in the air. When I asked her what she was doing she said “I’m being the tree” (the neighbour has cut down a large and intrusive conifer down recently so I assume that is ‘the tree’ in question). As you do, I asked her what it was to be a tree her response was “tall, up and down”.
This got me thinking about the ways that trees are used in spiritual practices and within Paganism in a general sense. Many witches will use roots, shoots and fruits of various trees as spell components, drawing on the associations of the tree in question to bring those qualities to the spell being worked. Similarly there are divination systems, such as the Ogham, which draws on trees as a source of wisdom as well as the basis of a calendar system.
The most common use of trees is in the process of earthing by communicating with a given tree in person or as a way of grounding yourself before or after a visualisation. The Tree can also form a meditation in itself and it is this aspect and it is this that I am going to explore today.
Using trees as a focus for visualisation is perhaps the most common way of using the image of the tree in spiritual practices. One of the first meditations I learnt for the purpose of preparing the mind for meditation or magical works is to ground oneself through the roots of the tree. These meditations focus on the root systems of the tree., promoting a sense of stability as well as a sense spiritual nourishment and empowerment. For those new to meditation it is a short visualisation, ideally no more than 5 minutes, which allows the individual to develop their meditation techniques. On the other hand it is a simple addition to the meditative journey which allows the user to prepare themselves mentally for a deeper journey, whilst at the same time grounding
There are many variations of the tree meditation but below is my variation.
Assume a comfortable position, ideally sitting or standing, and close your eyes. Take three cleansing breaths, relaxing your body with each breath.
Imagine that you are growing roots from the sole of your feet and that they are extending deep into the ground.
They travel deeper and deeper through the rich brown earth until you reach a cavern with a lake of crystal pure water. The roots extend around the cavern anchoring you in the earth and forming a sense of stability in you whilst some roots reach out and dip into the water.
Feel the water nourishing your roots and see it travel up through the root system as a bright white light which fills your body.
You are firmly supported by the deep earth and nourished as the pure light fills you. There is a sense of being relaxed and at one with the earth.
Allow this energy to flow through you for a few minutes before visualising the roots pulling out of the water. The energy is no longer flowing but it still fills your body and with a sense of balance and wellbeing.
Now visualise the roots pulling back and through the earth to re-join your body, sealing in that sense of calm and warmth.
Become more aware of your surroundings and begin to open your eyes.
Earthing seems to be the latest, greatest New Age gimmick of the moment with everything from custom earthing shoes and clothing to how to guides avalible to buy on the great world wide web. Earthing is hardly a new thing though. The concept of connecting with the Earth and our surroundings through direct contact has been around for a long time, as had the idea that our bodies have energy fields such as Chi Chi (or Qi) and Kundalini which can become affected and distorted by illness and life in general and maintained through healthy living, what we now call complementary medicine and connecting with nature.
Whether you are exploring Earthing as a way of getting back in touch with the natural rhythms of your body and nature at large, or for some spiritual or psychological benefit trees are a good way to achieve this especially when you consider the dreaded ‘elf and safety.
Use common sense when practicing Earthing. You shouldn’t go barefoot in areas you are unfamiliar with, you have no idea what you are going to find underfoot. Even in areas you know are safe from poisonous plants or animals you should take care as you can never fully know who has been before you and what they may have left behind. Be sensible and wear shoes, and they don’t have to be special rubber soled whatsits to achieve communication with nature.
To a degree I am recommending tree hugging of the highest order. Trees themselves are connected with the earth and it is just as easy to stand, sensibly shod, with a hand against the bark of your chosen tree as you enter a meditative state and attune yourself to the movements of not other the tree but the earth that nourishes it. Sitting at the base of the tree (after careful ‘elf and safety checks) with back against the tree is another option, or if you can’t sit on the ground a backless chair is an option. Finally there is the opportunity to lie on the ground with your hands pressed palm down against the ground. The important thing is to take the time to enter a relaxed and meditative state, though not to enter any journey or visualisation per say, and connect with the signs and sounds of nature.
And finally we come to meditation. I’ve already outlined the grounding visualisation above but the image of the Tree can be used as a way of traversing the three realms of mythology, the Underworld, the Material World and the Heavenly Realms.
I am sure you are familiar with the image of the World Tree, the Yggdrasil. Traditionally Yggdrasil is depicted as am ash tree and in Norse tradition it unites the 9 realms of existence. Yaggdrasil is just one of a number of different examples of a tree or pole being used to represent the Axis Mundi the connection between the heaven and earth. Others include the Asherah pole Asherah Pole and Hekateion and each an everyone one of us carries a representation of the axis mundi in our bodies in the form of our spine. The Djed Djed of Egypt is thought to be a symbolic tree as well as representative of the Spine of Osiris.
Through the motif of the axis mundi in the form of the tree we are able to journey through meditation in a number of different ways. One way would be to extend the grounding visualisation that I have already described. As well as extending those deep and supportive tap roots we can visualise the crown of the tree reaching heavenwards and connecting with the sky, a second heavenly energy of golden light filling us from above.
In this way we become the axis mundi through the imagery of the tree and through it unite heaven and earth. You might do this to receive protection, healing or simply to balance yourself energetically or to make a connection with one realm or the other.