Seeing, Seeing Trees

This week I photographed a fundraiser golf tournament held at Lambton Golf and Country Club, Toronto, an exclusive member club. It has the finest of everything, including the trees.

In a slow moment of a long day of shooting, I chatted with Simon who works in food and beverage. He was serving drinks for the an outdoor reception following the golfing. I mentioned how beautiful the trees are. Simon concurred. He said that while he did enjoy playing golf on the course, what he really enjoys is walking the course and just admiring the trees.

So I asked Simon how many of the golfers that day he thought had seen the trees as he does. He understood. I wasn’t asking if they had seen them, but if they had really seen the trees, paid attention to them, felt somehow to be in their presence. His answer, a guess, but I’m going to concur with him: likely few if any.

The golfers no doubt know they are in a beautiful place even if they take it for granted. No wonder they do. Many of them as a regular habit are quite used to the finest of restaurants where the staff are so enthusiastic greeting them at their arrival; the finest of golf sticks that move in their grip with perfect balance; the most comfortable of cars capable of travelling 200 km/hr without a shimmer. The finest of things, and at Lambton, the finest of trees.

What Simon and I surmised, and I don’t think we were feeling superior – heavens knows how I have often failed to see things, how often I get it all wrong – no, I think as Simon and I commiserated, we might have felt sad that the golfers had missed out on a deep and healing experience on the course that day, that is, missed how wise the trees can be, how in seeing each tree as unique, in recognizing each tree as alive, as much alive as the golfers themselves are alive, not recognizing that about the trees, that the golfers would be missing out on a wisdom of the spirit to be found in the company of the trees, there on the course.

With attention to any particular tree, seeing how it blows in the wind, how it forms a shape, expresses colour, exhibits a line and presence, and by seeing deeply into the tree – thereby listening in silence to its presence – could have perhaps heard something spoken from the trees about life they do not know, but need to know. If we could but see the tree for what it is, listen for it calling out to us, hear it tell of deeper things, of mystery; if we would but stop for a moment from our relentless effort to control everything, dominate this life, secure as much as possible, the best for ourselves, to win the game. And instead if we could but see ourselves among the trees.

Yes, I’d say we were sad the golfers may have spent the whole of the day focused on hitting the ball as far as they could, on worrying about their perfect form, on getting a good score, on keeping up friendly yet competitive camaraderie, on being so indulged on arrival with gifts, staff to attend to them, on treats along the way, an excellent lunch, a fine dinner…the day focussed on how all was in service to them, all was about them…the beautiful trees included. The trees making a lovely backdrop to the game.

What if instead the trees were seen to be alive, and having something to tell us?
West Coast artist Emily Carr in the summer would go out to the forests to paint. She’d find a place and set up her easel, but she would first just sit there, for hours, could sit still for a whole day. She was waiting for the trees to tell her what to paint. Painting wasn’t about herself, her ego, her skill and craft, her getting attention for her painting. Painting for her, as any artist, is about discovery, what the world might tell her. A meaning in what we do, the sages teach, is not our acting on the world to get what we want, but our waiting on the world for what it might tell us of life, speak to us about who we are in our deep place. And the sages say this is our peace.

Hard to say for Simon and me what any tree’s voice is except for a feeling in our heart, some sense of the presence of the trees, some feeling of companionship with trees, where among the trees, and nature herself, we find our own Self, feel at home when among their spirit.

What makes the difference in seeing? Somehow it seems that accepting the tree as wise and able to teach us something is to imagine a mystique to life, that life is deeper and more complex and more wonderful than ever we can know. Ever know. As the Shamans believe, mystery is not something as yet unknown to us, not just something waiting to be discovered, but rather, as the Shamans tell it, accepting life itself as a mystery is actually a way to navigate life and discover its meaning.

If we see mystery in the existence of trees, approach the tree with reverence – even see the whole of nature in that light – see it as wiser than we are, if only we might, then in this view, nature is not simply to serve us, but more, to be us, how we find our Self, the Self we can love.

Regarding the mystery of the natural world may be a way through which we find our soul, our own soul, out there, distinct from, yet at one with, the soul of all things. For Simon and me, we feel acknowledging the trees to be as alive as we are alive is to begin to find our place in this world, understand the nature of life, to feel we belong to this world, to feel a wholeness in this belonging, in being at one, imbued and imbuing all that is life. So it is finding our soul not inside us but out there, in the soul of the world, not in our self-centred absorption with controlling and winning at life, but there, attending to the world for our wisdom, out there, in our communion with all life. Yes, a lot to ask. A lifetime of discovery, as Simon and I continue to experience.

What is seen then when seeing the trees, to see them, give them all our attention as Simon does walking the course, not bothering with the golf, but in his full attention, loving the trees he walks among, loving that walk, going out, waiting upon the trees and the leaves and the grasses and the birds for his joy and his wisdom?