Nature Therapy

By: Cortney Cameron

I’d like to share one of the activities in the Nature Spirit Walks Tarot: 22 Sensory Activities to Enjoy in Nature book. The activity is “Tree Hugging” for the Strength card. I’ve also written an expanded introduction (not in the book). You can skip the introduction and head straight to the activity, if you’d like.

Introduction

Trees are ancient beings, not only in that they can individually live thousands of years, but also in that the first trees appeared hundreds of millions of years ago—in a shape that most people would recognize even today as a tree. Our planet is frequently termed the “blue planet” after its distinguishing seas, but “green planet” would be no less accurate a descriptor. An ocean planet would scarcely be recognizable as our own to today’s eye, so essential are trees to our world’s function and identity—and yet many millions of years ago, this was case. Taking the first step from the waters onto the sunbaked primordial lands, where the lifting embrace of water could no longer shield them from heat and gravity, trees invented vascular systems, roots, woody tissues, and protective cuticles. Arguably, the rise of trees paved the way for the rest of life who followed, moderating the climate with oxygen and stabilizing the land with their roots. Providing shade, shelter, food, and comfort from the dawn of our own species, many cultures a “Tree of Life” from the more abstract version in the Abrahamic Garden of Eden, to the more concrete World Tree motif that recurs in culture around the globe. A whole book could therefore attempt to document the spirituality of trees—indeed, many have—and still not fully capture the rich cultural traditions regarding these magnificent and ancient beings. What else could you anchor to one point in the ground, and providing it with nothing what sunlight, water, and dirt passively fell on that location, spiral into a grand structure a hundred feet tall?

One distinctive feature of trees as a mental group is that despite the inarguable diversity—from the baobab, dragon’s blood tree, redwoods, bamboo to rainbow eucalyptus—every tree seems cut from the same wood, so to speak. As few people would identify the silhouette of say, a dog, by the word “mammal” rather than the more specific canine descriptor, as would call the outline of a tree a “beech” rather than simply a tree. Perhaps, as animals ourselves, we are biased towards seeing these rooted entities, which operate on time scales far beyond our experience, as more similar to each other than we ourselves are to our locomotive brother-species. Conversely, perhaps a tree would name the image of a person and a cat as simply an “animal,” finding little difference between such creatures that rootlessly wander the face of the earth. On the other hand, perhaps our intuition that all trees share a kinship points to a deeper knowledge. Indeed, each month, new research finds that trees function as a mega-organism or society, communicating and sustaining one another through their roots or expansive fungal networks, such networks allowing them to nurture weaker members of their own species. In these communities, some trees are apparently “favored” more than others—perhaps the trees’ relatives—in much the same way humans tend to favor their own families. A few trees exhibit “maternal instincts” where they, through shading, force their young to grow slowly and steadily, developing a dense and sturdy wood, against the youngster’s wishes to shoot up as fast as they can (and developing weak wood in the process).

Finally, while many think of trees as unyielding, many trees are actually flexible so that they can move a bit in the wind without damage. This flexibility is a key aspect to such trees’ survival, reminding us that strength does not always mean being rigid and unbending but rather persevering and behaving justly. In fact, strength (or fortitude) is one of the four cardinal virtues and has been described as willful bravery or righteous action in the face of pain or hardship—or more succinctly as “endurance of the soul.”

Card: Strength
Theme: resilience; adaptability; courage; strength
Pay attention to: trees; rocks; ants; horses; large animals
Activity: Tree Hugging

Trees are ancient beings, not only in that they can individually live thousands of years, but also in that the earliest trees appeared hundreds of millions of years ago. The rise of trees paved the way for the rest of life to follow, moderating the climate with oxygen and stabilizing the land with their roots. Research continues to provide evidence that trees have their own intelligence, functioning as mega-organisms or societies, communicating and sustaining one another through their roots or expansive fungal networks. Trees have offered shade, shelter, food, and comfort since the dawn of humanity, and many cultures feature a “Tree of Life.”

On today’s Walk, connect with a tree that most catches your attention right now. For now, don’t worry too much about why you find yourself drawn to a particular tree—just follow your instincts.

Approach your chosen tree, noting its characteristics. Is it expansive and stately, a wise elder with many years of experience? Is it a youth, sprightly with great potential? Is its foliage sparse or bushy? What is the overall color? Note whether, in today’s wind, it sways or makes sound. Is this tree different from those nearby in some manner? Is it a loner, off by itself, or social, with a group?

As you arrive, place your hand on the bark. What color is it? Is it smooth or rough? Is it deeply creviced, so that your fingertips can probe the cracks? Do you see any other organisms, such as lichens or ants? Is there an aroma? Turn your gaze upwards, observing how high its canopy reaches. Does your impression of the tree change now that you’re up close?

Next, wrap your arms around the tree. How does the tree feel on your chest and as you breathe? If the tree’s size warrants it, lean your body against the tree, letting it support you. Observe the sensations passing through you. How does it feel to share your weight with the tree?

Sit at the tree’s base, letting your back rest on its trunk. For a moment, imagine that you, too, are rooting in this place. Envision your roots snaking down through the earth, connecting with the tree’s. How does this feel? If you imagine that you can exchange nutrients and information, what does the tree share with you? What do you share with the tree? Ponder this for some time. When you are ready to leave, tell the tree farewell and thank it for its time, providing one final embrace before you part.
Excerpted with permission from Nature Spirit Walks: 22 Sensory Activities to Enjoy in Nature (www.naturespiritwalks.com).

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