Tree-Inspired Problem Solving

“Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

(Herman Hesse)

I have a thing for trees. They just seem so magical to me. They hold all of this history, standing by while the world around them changes. Sometimes it seems almost like they have taken all of that in and recorded it in their core. When I walk on hardwood floors, especially very old ones, I feel a connection to the history held in the wood. First, I get a sense of the people who have lived in the home. I wonder who has walked those boards and what was going on in their lives at the time. Then I think about how each line in the wood is telling a story of what the tree “saw” while it was growing in the Earth. Before you call me cray cray Did you know that trees actually talk to one another? I am totally serious. You can read more here, but here’s a summary snippet from a Smithsonian article on the matter:

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence ...that shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

Tree lady That woman being hugged by the tree in the picture here was my mother. She was way ahead of her time on noticing the communicative energy of trees. When she was a teenager in the 1950’s, she used to go to the campus of Johns Hopkins University and spend time touching and, yes, hugging, the trees. My mother was a bona fide, literal, “Tree Hugger.” (That explains a lot, doesn’t it?) My father, a Hopkins Engineering student, criticized her mercilessly for it. He thought she was ridiculous. He only believed in “hard science” and “empirical facts.” Um... Dad? You underestimated her wisdom and insight most profoundly. The scientific community just hadn’t caught up to her yet.
More than meets the arms I can only hope that whatever therapists or spiritual directors with whom my mother worked embraced her love and understanding of trees. She found profound spiritual grounding in nature. She explored wooded areas with my daughter and with all of my niblings when they were little people. The more scientists study trees, the more my mother’s wisdom becomes evident. She wasn’t imagining things. Her connection with trees was not some weird woo woo wishful thinking. Trees. Talk. My mother could hear them. Maybe it’s a German thing As much as we Americans like to think of Germans in the narrow frame of precision engineering and rigid, effective scheduling, Germany was also the homeland of Herman Hesse, the poet who wrote the quote up above. Hesse often urged us toward a more spiritual connection, right there in the middle of rigidly defined German civilization. Germany was also the homeland of my maternal grandfather’s people. Perhaps my mother came by this tree intuition honestly. “Intuition,” or more precisely, the fiercely logical but not linear data we receive from our gut- brains, is beginning to emerge in our scientific literature. “Hearing” trees requires it. We take them in sensorially. A gut feeling The “gut brain” (which contains just as many neural connections as that thing in your skull,) takes in sensations and in web-like fashion, connects it to every body-memory we have that is in any way familiar. It does it so quickly, and the connections can be so seemingly remote that we assess them as illogical. They are fiercely logical. They are not linear. Even if we are still wobbly in our ability to interpret the sensations we receive, it serves us well to learn to tune in to the world around us in this way. If we take the linear data we receive from our minds and consider it alongside the faster-than-lightening sensorial data from our gut, we have the ability to make much better informed choices. The old answers aren’t working I feel us emerging as a people here in the US. Our old forms and static understandings are no longer working. Our fierce dependence on linear logic, hierarchies and similar European Male- centric culture-bound concepts are no longer enough. As the voices and wisdom of people of color and of all genders are heard more and more in our communities, our politics, our businesses and our faith communities, our understanding of our world and everything in it is necessarily expanding. I am convinced that our way forward will embrace these expanded ways of knowing. To those of us who have been entrenched in one way of understanding for so many decades, some of those solutions will seem as odd to us as watching a young woman in Baltimore hug the trees on the Johns Hopkins University campus in the 50’s. I will remind you... She wasn’t wrong.
I dare you And so I dare you: I dare you to consider the ideas that you may have reflexively rejected. Notice your biases. Challenge them. If someone’s solutions to our current challenges seem weird or crazy to you, give them a fair hearing, biases dropped as well as you can, and ask yourself “Why not?” first, instead of “Why?” You might decide that the proposed solutions still don’t work. You might find that they do. You might find that they are partially helpful and con. Be combined with other factors to create a sustainable positive change in our lives. You have nothing to lose by considering that “the tree hugger” might know something you don’t. We have an unprecedented opportunity to build ourselves back up from all that has been dismantled. Let’s learn to listen to ourselves and to one another and imagine something brand new that serve us all much better. I dare you.


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