First, remember to
as your heart beats upon empty, formless air that is the wind, that is your own breath that slips through trees, slides over ponds, along the ridged backs of the mountain, the spine of the deer, the moose, the human being.
And is it really a breeze that lifts the leaves or is it your breath and the deer’s that circles the globe in gusts, and gales. What isn’t full of breath and its own watery blood? Mud breathes. Rocks breathe. Now,
and learn that
Science tells us that trees collect sunlight, moisture, earth and water, convert it all the oxygen and exhale it from the canopies of forests.
The trees breathe for us. How lucky are we? How like royalty we are treated. Now, inhale
and exhale like a tree, and listen like a tree to this:
When Henry David Thoreau needed more wildness than civilized Concord and quiet Walden Pond could provide, he went to the deep Maine forests. He sought out the people called the Abenaki who were at home in the mysterious, dark Maine woods.
The Abenaki’s viewed themselves as forest creatures. They held the conviction that all trees “possess a spirit as real as that of a human” (Thoreau). When the Abenaki needed to cut a tree for their shelter and transport, they asked forgiveness of that tree’s spirit and thanked it for providing sustenance.
For yourself, and
as you recognize your shared spirits. You, the Abenaki forest people and trees were not surprised that
it was in Thoreau’s nature and philosophy to know trees as the Abenaki knew them, as the very stuff of life. For him the indiscriminate clear-cutting of the Maine woods by the white man was a tragedy, and he mourned the death of his breathing friends with the Abenaki. We only forgot our utter dependence on this freely given inheritance.
We have forgotten even how much we forgot, so we think we know better. Or else, how is it that we sit on the cushion at first s, impatient. We bend with yoga, rebelling against the teacher’s advice to “keep breathing.” Inhale…. if I must Exhale… an impatient sigh.
Fear stops my breath. A withheld breath, stops life’s flow. Tears could fall simple as rain, but as I hold back breath, I dam the heart. So foolish that fear thinks it is god and I, frozen, airless, obey as if fear and I could overcome compassion’s call to
Simple And so simple to forget.
There are only two ways to notice breath: The first is when it demands your attention as you gasp for air. Then we recall what we took for granted. The second way to notice breath is by choice. We need teachers to remind us that we are alive by the grace of breath: “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
The mind ignores the breath and likes to forget, when possible. The mind that is a noisy dive filled with drunks shouting trash talk over each other, and the loud band that plays the same bad music in endless loops. We sit on the bar stool drunk on thoughts, barely breathing. Now
Buddhists speak of the emptiness that is our essence. Inhale. How can something invisible be real? We ask this and then take the next invisible breath. Our true self is not empty at all, but full of formless energy—like the breath. Charged with electricity, like a storm cloud. Exhale. What contains everything cannot be contained, like air. Our heavy bodies, the mountains, the oceans are carried as if weightless on these invisible arms.
Thoreau and the Abenaki saw the living being called “tree.” They knew its oxygenated, watery blood coursed within its rough skin. To know a tree is more than its bark, more than that it’s fallen leaves, more than its dead fuel for fire, more than our wooden ships, more than the solid floor beneath our feet. Biology is poetry that speaks of the
“crown of leaves that convert carbon dioxide from the air,
and turns raw sap into usable food,
heartwood, composed of dead cells
whose main function is to support the whole structure,
cambium, a single layer of cells which produce
the new wood and bark,
that conducts food from the leaves to the cambium
to nourish it or to store it
composed of dead cells that insulate
and protect inner tissues
from disease, infections and drying
root hairs that absorb water and mineral salts from the soil;
larger roots anchor the tree
and store nitrogen and carbohydrates and
medullary rays that sore food and conduct water and food
(Functional Parts of a Tree, Maine Trees)
No death, no birth, said Buddha and the trees prove it. The mystery is no mystery to wildness, to the trees, whose bodies, even in death as they are diffused, serve as shelter and nourishment.
Diffused, we also became the air that all beings share. Exhale winter, inhale spring, exhale summer inhale autumn…with the great green lungs of forests, the evaporating oceans, the gaseous mud, the minerals released from rocks. Breathing in and breathing out, held together by an invisible, pervasive source we might remember our unity.