There is a tree I know that has been teaching me about the power of presence. It’s an ebony tree with a thick black stem and dark limbs that flex into a thick canopy of evergreen leaves.
In stillness, the tree is uniquely itself. It is elegant. It does not have a five-year plan. The tree does not need to look busy to feel valuable or important. It is not actively doing anything. Yet, the scope of what that tree achieves is quite remarkable.
The tree invites birds to its branches. Recently a giant eagle owl took to roosting in the recesses of it dark shaded branches.
At a certain time of year it fruits and monkeys and baboons gleefully take to its branches.
Nyala can bee seen under the tree eating leaves that have fallen to the earth due to the monkeying around in the branches above.
A monitor lizard is living in a hollowed section of the trunk.
The tree’s presence is formatting the space around it. It’s shaping an infinite scape of occurrence simply by being itself. It’s essence arising out of it’s deep unmoving refusal to be anything but itself.
Let your presence invite everything to be itself around you.
Harmony is everything being uniquely itself, and in that way a part of a greater whole.
The force of life moves a leopard.
I believe presence is the ability to meet life. It is the simple way that the very intelligence of life guides us in every moment.
Leopards live in this deep union with the unified field of intelligence. They don’t move…they are moved.
What I mean is that a leopard does not have a verbal mind. There is not the mental construction “I should get moving”. But rather the moment shapes them from a feeling, from stimuli – maybe an impala crosses their path. Maybe the day cools. Maybe shade beckons. The unfolding of life asks for an action and the leopard is guided into movement by what is being asked. In this way the leopard’s movement is aligned with the entire movement of the universe.
We see this in humans, in great masters. Martial artists and dancers fall often into this place where the dance and the dancer have become one and the same.
Our goal is to remove all mental clutter, insecurity or trauma, to the point where the moment shapes us and simply informs us of what is required of us. This is the empty way of Zen.
This is the way of the leopard.
Trackers are adept at creating psychological states. On the trail of an elusive creature they enter a paradoxical place. They are obsessively determined to find the animal but the desire to find it has not been allowed to become a crippling attachment to outcome. What they commit to in order to generate the outcome is simply the next track, then the next track, then the next.
To me, what it looks like, is the dynamic nature of play. They are relaxed; they allow the moment to evolve. They lose the track and check the trail up ahead the go back to the last track. Lightheartedly enjoying themselves doing something that seems almost impossible, they relentlessly allow the process to unfold.
All transformations begin with a single track and then another. Most profound shifts in our lives come from tiny decisions. There are things we want, the person we believe we can be. Between that person and where we are now are small steps… the next track. Cleaning out your bedside table, an apology, a thank you note. Learning to say no or yes.
Commit to the next small track, then the next, and meet greatness in the play of process.
This is the way of the tracker.
There is an aloe in my garden I admire. With spiny fronds that protrude and odd wedges for leaves it looks like a kind of immobile alien. Viewed from a distance the word curmudgeon comes to mind. As a plant, the aloe looks defensive. That is because it is, with a supreme elegance. Its adaptions to the harshness of its surrounding are genius.
It is covered in small sharp thorns. Underneath the thorns is a thick waxy skin that prevents it losing moisture. Inside the frond is viscous foul tasting goo that, as a child, my mother would put on my nails to prevent me biting them. When a frond dies it withers and then folds downward to protect the stem- a kind of ever replacing armor.
The aloe that occurs from southern Africa all the way to the Arabian Peninsula (and even makes an appearance in Madagascar) has been perfectly shaped by its environment.
Like the aloe, our patterns of defense have been perfectly shaped by our environment. There is sophistication to a defense mechanism. Rage, disassociation, isolation were born in us for a reason. Passivity or hyperactivity as a means to feel safe was constructed by the complex maneuvering of the psyche.
To understand and even admire our defense pattern is to step towards wholeness. To thank it for its necessity rather than loathe you for its presence is an invitation to be more yourself. Not perfect, but on a journey of growth.
At certain times of year, out of the fortress of the aloes defenses, rises a beautiful flowered frond. This is the aloe’s essence. And from this frond, a multitude of beautiful birds come to feed- mirroring the beauty of the aloe’s fronds with the beauty of the birds themselves.
Love your defenses. They protect your essence, which is so beautiful that it can’t help but attract others to it.
During a walk that I went on a couple of weeks ago, I felt a certain shift in consciousness, and a shift in the way that I was perceiving the natural world. It’s something that stayed with me for a long time, and I realised that what I was discovering was a much more native way of discovering myself in all things, in the natural world. It began with a very critical voice, centered on the fact that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I had all these places I wanted to be, and things I wanted to achieve, and I wasn’t doing enough to get there. That’s my common theme (it may be a different theme for you…we all have one). When that voice should have made me do more and motivate me, it actually made me rebel against it, and stop doing things. It was a recurring pattern for a week or so, and so I turned to the wilderness for the answers…