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Monk in the World Guest Post: Rita Simon

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Rita Simon’s reflection, Spaciousness Between Our Branches.

In our community, we are blessed to have a new park along the Chippewa River that has paved paths which allow us to walk our monthly silent peace walk year-round. This month as we walked, the crisp air of late fall was refreshing as darkness rapidly fell. The sun set over the river casting brilliant shades of orange, red, and pink across the rippling waters and creating silhouettes of the huge trees on the riverbank. After our walk, one person shared that he had never before noticed the amazing shapes and structures of the darkening leafless trees as they were backlit by the setting sun, nor all the space between their branches.

I once read a refection where the author expressed that she had always felt sad each year as the fecundity of summer’s leaves fell in autumn leaving the trees appearing bare, barren, and somber. But one day she noticed how, as the leaves fell, the canopy of the trees opened up revealing the amazing, clear spaciousness of the sky between their branches. This struck me so deeply at the time that I began to pay attention. Not only do the spaces between the branches become frames for sky, but also for clouds, sun, moon, and stars. Exposed are the leafy squirrels’ nests swaying in the very tops of the trees, and winter birds can be seen flying to-and-fro as they perch on, or flit between, the branches. Squirrels are more than happy to show off their amazing swirling acrobatics as they zip from branch to branch!

I am more and more in love with those incredible beings we call trees. As I walk in the woods, wherever I am, I see them changing each day in each season. This reminds my heart that everything is beautiful in its own way and time, but also impermanent. And though I love the spring trees, with their buds swelling and bursting into delicate feathery leaves that expand and flourish into summer, and the autumn trees that display their copper, crimson, and gold treasures which they shower down upon the path, I love winter trees best of all. They have a stark loveliness in their black trunks and branches of varying textures, sizes, and shapes. As they shed their leafy, heavy summer burdens it seems their trunks and branches stretch out and up even higher into the sky. 

And so, it is with we humans. We travel through our seasons much as the trees do. 

In the springtime of our childhood, we delicately build our egos, soft and feathery at first, but bit-by-bit becoming more solid as we approach adulthood. 

Our summer adult years are marked by our full canopy of leaves thickening and bursting forth in all directions as we try to find our places in the ‘forest’ of life. We add on education, careers, families and other relationships, homes, possessions, etc. Our leafy canopies get so full and heavy at times that branches bend or even break, and there is sometimes very little space between them to be seen or experienced. 

In our autumn years there is a letting go of those golden leaves that no longer serve us or that unnecessarily burden us. Often the letting go is not something we consciously do, but which happens anyway whether we want it to or not. 

The winter years of our lives can be a time when our life’s experiences, if we are aware, open up into a great spaciousness in the solidity of our being. The trappings of our youth and adult years can fall away like the autumn leaves and leave us with what really matters, wisdom, gratitude, compassion, love. We experience ‘beingness’ and a oneness with everything. Our bodies and our interior and exterior branches may be dark, bent, broken, scarred, or twisted, but they reveal an underlying grace and strength. There is a spareness, an opening up, a timeless wisdom that almost seems to become visible in our very bodies. Have you ever noticed that spare, almost transparent luminescence of very old people? It is a wonder and loveliness to behold!

When you go walking outdoors, spend a bit of time noticing the trees. You might pick one particular tree that you see often and are able to observe in all seasons. Stand before it, or better yet, sit beneath it. Breathe and quiet yourself. Let it speak to you. Listen to what it is telling you. Tree-beings are great teachers for our life’s journey if we pay attention and listen deeply.

Rita Simon, a retired family physician, is a member of St. Anthony Spirituality Center’s lay preaching team. They plan and present annual themed retreat weekends for a wide range of spiritual seekers. Rita practices embodied spirituality through vocal and instrumental music, yoga and dance, and the enjoyment of nature’s beauty. Rita lives in Chippewa Falls, WI, USA.

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