Arbutus Dragon

When I was young I loved to draw trees. I felt such pleasure focusing on the intricacy of each branch connecting to another branch then another branch then a smaller branch, out to the tiniest twig. No two formations ever duplicated. Drawing roots held the same fascination for me. I imagined that if I were to somehow be able to grab a tree in the middle of the trunk and turn it upside down the branches would become its roots and its roots its branches.

I don’t’ recall ever sitting down in front of a tree to try to copy it, I drew from my imagination and happily impressed myself with the wonderful results. Unfortunately none of those early masterpieces have survived.

At that time in my life all that I was awake to was that trees were outdoor things, pretty enough and somehow worthy of my fascination. No consciousness or clue that they are also living, breathing beings and that one day I would wake up to our relationship with each other. It was beyond my comprehension to consider that far into the future, when someone asked me who I hold as a hero I would reply “the tree.”

Long ago, I don’t quite remember when or why, I stopped drawing trees.   I vaguely recall eventually being sent to an art lesson, being told to copy a mug and an apple, then being told I wasn’t good enough and believing it.

Many years later I connected with my enduring love of hiking, tenting in the forest, and the experience of becoming grounded and soothed amongst trees.

My most powerful awakening showed up in a surprising way one remarkable night.

When my 30-year old younger son became quickly and intensely addicted to drugs I was ignorant and ill-informed about that world. His tragic death from dirty drugs was devastating for me. As I look back now I see that it took me years to emerge, cycling through varied phases of shock and grieving. One belief I carry is that the draw to drugs and what fuels the addiction for many people of all ages is their yearning to satisfy a spiritual longing, to fulfill a spiritual emptiness that is somehow not being met in everyday life. Unfortunately it is still rare in our era and in our culture to offer responsible, skilled guidance to those seekers and I profoundly regret that I wasn’t awake enough to provide this for my beloved son.

This belief was an aspect of my desire to understand for myself what lay beyond the barriers of everyday consciousness. My good fortune was that I was given the gift of being initiated into the world of teacher plants by loving, responsible, skilled guides.

A couple of hours into my first journey, suddenly the walls, the doors, the structures around me simply dissolved.   Now there was no human-constructed barrier between indoors and outdoors. Without having moved I was seated within only natural surroundings — the dark night sky, shadowy images of trees and bushes, my body responding to the spaciousness. I wanted to walk and explore, yet to do that I knew somewhere within me that I had to deal with my physical body, I had to stand up.   Without being able to explain properly even now, the cord of my ordinary consciousness was also still connected. I mustered everything I could to stand up and found myself immediately at the precipice of what my reality could tolerate: for probably a nano-second, which I still recall clearly, there was no wall and no door, I was seeing and feeling only the natural environment around me. But then, some thread of my ordinary consciousness came hurtling into the foreground insisting that to “go out” I had to reach for the door knob and open the door. Although I had that split second of knowing no wall or door existed and that all I had to do was keep walking, I was instantaneously snapped back into automatic — before I could interrupt I saw my hand materialize in front of me, I felt my mind working to manifest the door and the knob, I saw them form into solid substance in order to be touched by my hand. I opened the door and “went out” into the night.

Whenever I reflect on these moments from time to time, two things come to mind:

  1. If only I had been able to sustain that expanded consciousness longer, I would have been walking around in the natural environment without having had to manifest the wall or the door. How wondrous that would have been.
  2. Now I think I have an inkling of the role of intention that physicists talk about. Energy follows focus. Everything in our existence is a manifestation of intention, and it is within the realm of possibility to not be entranced and trapped within our common consensus of reality. I had to intend the door knob for it to be there.

Now I am wandering away from getting to my tree-awakening, so I will bring myself back to that now.

It was a cold, clear, star-lit night. But it was not the stars I was drawn to. It was the brilliance of the aliveness surrounding me. Startled at first, I blinked and gasped in wonder as I witnessed the energy field of each distinct blade of grass, plant, leaf, tree radiating exquisitely. Since that illuminating moment I regard other-than-human consciousness with the deepest respect, gratitude and awe. Simply no words at the moment to adequately describe my feelings. How fortunate for we humans that the trees and plants are not wasting their precious consciousness on manifesting door knobs.

Our own ancients knew and lived in harmony within this consciousness, accepting and honouring their interdependence. Indigenous people around the globe knew and still know. Although we humans are all indigenous to our planet, so many of us have forgotten.

Arbutus and me — not Grandmother Tree, she lives elsewhere

That night I was not hallucinating, I was being taught by being shown. This lesson has been indelibly imprinted within me.

In my range of explorations since my recent cancer diagnosis, wondering about my inner incongruities, I find that I have been separating some of my most personal, impactful learning by remaining quiet and not sharing openly with others. This is one reason why I am committed to sharing now.

I was magnetically drawn to one particular tree. She appeared to be opening her arms in invitation. Her body was much wider than mine. I leaned my back against her sturdy trunk, anticipating hard bumpiness, and was surprised to feel as if I were sinking into a cushion. There was no distinct separation between us.   I was enveloped in a lovingly tender embrace like none other I have ever experienced. I absorbed a sensation of bonding that I believe so many of my ancestors had been deprived of as they battled hardships, growing further and further away from their integral relationship with the natural world. The cord of connection that had been severed so many generations ago mended during this embrace. The frayed, disconnected strands were rewoven back in time to my ancestors and strengthened for the generations yet to come. I later learned that others before me had called this precious tree Grandmother.

Arbutus Dragon from a distance

I had embarked on my teacher plant journey with some trepidation, expecting I would be shown ugliness, more sorrow and even terror. Instead I was shown beauty. The beauty had been there all along but I had been missing it. Relationship with the natural world had been there all along but I had been missing it. So much to grieve and to praise.

That was my waking up to consciously relating with trees. There have been many amazing adventures and stories since that time, several of which gently reappeared in the foreground not long ago as I was sitting in a hot tub at night gazing up at the trees.

Because this is so long, in a separate blog I’ll add more about what I have been learning about them.

PS:   In previous blogs I may have mentioned that my journey with cancer has been a mystical experience. One dimension has been an abundance of synchronicities. And here is one right now: I began writing this blog while sitting in the Nanaimo airport — as I put away my ipad and stood up to go through Security I turned around to see a large poster with trees on it and a table with an array of printed materials. It was National Forest Week.

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Throughout the decades that I’ve been guiding others in their personal development, one of the things I’ve taught about is learning to develop self-compassion rather than live with the perpetually nagging inner self-critic driven by self-hatred. Along the way of teaching others I have also dedicated myself to continuing my own learning, inner work and expanding my horizons. Cancer showing up big-time in my reality has inspired me to further intensify and expand my personal explorations. At first, I didn’t think that self-compassion would be one of those explorations.

This cancer journey has brought me face to face with the enormous difficulty I have opening to receive assistance from others. When assistance is offered, on the one hand I feel pleasure, warmth and deep gratitude yet on the other hand my inner-critic begins blaring at me with alarming volume.   As one aspect of waking up and growing up, I am committing myself to walk the pathway of self-compassion for being in the position to receive assistance as an important contributor to my whole-person health and wellbeing.

For a while now a group of amazing, caring and generous people have been asking me to say yes to a magnitude of receiving assistance that never entered my dreams as possible. I met their offer with hesitation and procrastinated as best I could, eventually realizing how deeply resistant, and literally terrified I am to saying yes to accepting help.

I’m well aware of my fierce independence, and many of the related patterns. However now I have woken up to a new and deeper dimension of the issue.

Gobsmacking insights related to my relationship with receiving assistance have come galloping in with a vengeance. Shame, guilt, fear all stirring to a surprising degree.

For a few months now I have been doing some illuminating inner work, sometimes agonizing and also liberating. On a positive note, of course I have not been able to do this inner work without opening myself to significant and priceless input from the remarkable community of caring, skilled and generous people that I am so fortunate to have around me. I am happy and relieved that I’ve opened to listen to others and consider their different perspectives. Valuable first steps.

Although I may not have gotten to the core nugget, I’ve unearthed some understanding about the origins of why receiving assistance is such a challenge for me.

According to Albert Einstein, defining the problem is 90% of the solution. He said that if he had one hour to solve a problem, he spent 55 minutes defining it and only 5 minutes on the solution. Einstein appears to have had much more confidence in his problem-solving ability than I do in mine. What I have observed, however, is that often the problem that appears obvious at the beginning is probably not the real problem and that digging deeper is necessary to reveal the genuine problem.

Not being Albert, and maybe because the complexity and unpredictability of the human emotional landscape is very different from science, I find that understanding is just not enough. To truly let go, shift and transform the grip of this pattern is my desire. I am working toward sincerely opening and gladly receiving, without my inner-critic snapping at my heels and heart, blaming myself for being in the position to be offered assistance.

And where do I begin? Self-compassion.

One thing I am working with is the Haven path to self-compassion, a step and a day at a time. Many of you who have studied at Haven will recognize this. When teaching about self-compassion as an alternative to being driven by the ever-vigilant, self-critical internal nag I talk about:

Breathe:                     breathing deeply to heighten awareness – when I am not breathing I am stuck in my head only, cut off from my heart and my guts

Aware:                        wake up to being caught in the cycle and what is actually going on

Acknowledge:            be willing to acknowledge what I am now aware of as the first step toward moving in a different direction, becoming present rather than locked in the past rut

Accept:                        accept the actual reality of the circumstance of whatever is occurring. Unless I am awake enough to clearly see and genuinely accept the sometimes painful, sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable reality of what is, I disable myself from accessing my deeper wisdom and full faculties to make the most intelligent and informed choice of what action to take.

Act:                              understanding just isn’t enough. Step into and act on the choice.

Appreciate:                 consciously and glad-heartedly appreciate myself for quieting the self-critic and following through on my action. Celebrate!

About acceptance:     easy to say! It sounds simple enough, however genuine acceptance of something difficult is elusive, even profoundly painful and frightening. I find that genuine acceptance runs deep into the bones and cannot be faked. Genuine acceptance is tricky. I can fool myself that I have accepted something, but the tentacles of the painfulness, the profound desire for it to be different, the stark reality is so gut-wrenching that I’ll do whatever I can to distract myself from sinking in. Such as going into confusion, procrastinating, making excuses, apologizing, getting sick, tired, obsessing, blaming, eating and a slew of other creative diversions.

For many of us, our vigilant inner-critic is a life-time companion and often a source of motivation toward achievement and success, thank you very much, so not to be dismissed without sincere appreciation! However, it is also the jailer, keeping us locked into past, familiar, obstructive patterns. In order to mature, and shift deeply engrained patterns it is essential to have a different direction to move toward. Otherwise I can tell myself over and over that I want to change and yet I stall without having a clear new destination to focus on. Staying in even the most uncomfortable rut is usually preferable to stepping into the unknown. As painful as the familiar is, the unknown is more terrifying.

The attitude rut that I’ve been operating from includes a belief that being in a position to receive assistance is humiliating and proof of my inadequacy as a person and failure in life. Another belief is that accepting assistance is an unbearable burden of obligation because I will never be able to repay the debt. A belief such as I will never be able to repay the debt because I am not adequate or capable. Another insight, with a blush: my giving is voluntary therefore I have more control, receiving calls for opening in a different way and is much more vulnerable.

My challenge is to open-heartedly receive with delight the assistance being offered. Repeatedly acting on Breathe, Aware, Acknowledge, Accept, Act and Appreciate over and over and over. And I now have more to add to Accept — I don’t think I would be as close as I am to acceptance and self-compassion without being willing to unlock my curiosity, my heart and my mind to listen to others and try on new perspectives. As ever, learning, growth and expansion become possible through openly relating with others. Their wisdom and fresh viewpoint has been illuminating and nurturing.

Now I am embracing the kindly offered perspective that struck me awake: by being unwilling to receive their assistance I am actually putting up a barrier that obstructs the current of caring and loving energy that is flowing my way gladly and freely.

This is not all about me! To refuse is to close a door to a mutually enriching relationship. To refuse is a rejection of the other and a dismissal of their heartfelt offering. I am being asked to wake up to an aspect of interrelatedness that is less familiar to me. Our entire existence is one of dynamic reciprocity. To forget that is perilous, to honour it is life-affirming.

So, here I am faced with living the path of self-compassion that cancer has dropped on my doorstep. Learning to open-heartedly receive assistance and drink in with delight, relief and loving acceptance the energy of caring and loving that is flowing my way. Without putting restrictions and caveats on the form of the flow! Wow, that was quite the thought that just rolled out.

Is saying a simple “yes” the solution? Surrendering into receiving what is flowing my way, therefore “being” in the flow.

In moments such as when I am writing this right now, when I recognize the magnitude of this learning and this energy I am in sheer awe and wonder — existing in a stunningly beautiful, expansive, unified field, a state of being that we are all held in together. A sense of awe and wonder that I, none of us, are alone.

And, remembering, all of this is possible through community. I am overflowing with abundant gratitude.


Cancer Diagnosis

Dear Valued Friends and Cohorts: I have some personal news about recent events in my life that I would like to share with you. In March, shortly before our team’s trip to China I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This has not been a secret, however I have not been doing much emailing or communicating […]

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