23 June 2012

Meditation of the Treetops

Growing up in New York City, I got my most powerful experiences of nature when I was sent to summer camp for a few years in a row. There I had the opportunity to lie in the grass and contemplate the bees dipping into the clover blossoms, the ubiquitous iridescent Japanese beetles that were, I later learned, a plague at that time, the grasshoppers that I captured in my hand (whereupon they released their “tobacco juice” as we called it), and the whole blooming buzzing madness of nature at the height of summer.

I remember trying to uncover the secret of life by opening the head of a bird I found dead. Thankfully my attempts to bash its brain open with a rock were not successful. I also picked plants apart trying to get at the internal essence, only to be left in puzzlement as the last petal or plant part was plucked off, revealing only nothingness (apparently).

I would gaze into ponds in awe at the jesus bugs skimming over the surface and the minnows darting beneath the surface. After camp, back in Manhattan, I would squat over puddles looking for signs of life — usually in vain, except for the stray earthworm after a rainstorm. I had an intense fantasy revolving around miniature microcosms that I wished to glimpse by gazing intently into small worlds of earth or water.

A special activity that I discovered involved lying on my back on the ground and gazing into the tops of the trees until I sensed it as a different world, a world high up and far removed from the difficulties and sufferings “down here” — and I did experience quite a few difficulties as a perhaps oversensitive child. I felt that the treetops were a different realm, where only certain birds, insects, and maybe squirrels and bats could go. They were close to the clouds, which was yet a higher world, further removed. It was a hierarchy of states of consciousness, though of course I couldn’t articulate it to myself that way at that age. Much later (several years ago) I learned that there was something called the Meditation of the Treetops in Zen; it was mentioned in a book by William Segal (A Voice at the Borders of Silence), but I wasn’t able to find out much about it. I've never seen any other reference to this in connection with Zen, though there are Taoist meditations on nature.

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.