The Space Between Us
I have always been magnetically drawn to beech trees. According to Celtic traditions, the Phagos Beech is the guardian of ancient wisdom and the queen of trees to the king, the oak tree. She offers guidance and assistance in bringing forth new perspectives, and she provides robust foundations for in-depth inquiries. Ancient knowledge and whole libraries of information, inclusive of the teachings and practices of many wisdom traditions, are embedded in the spirit of the beech tree, thereby connecting different dimensions of reality and hosting complex seed-banks of probabilities. For all these reasons, working with a beech tree can be a portal experience in many respects.
First Encounter with the Spirit of the Beech Tree
I am five years old and I am sitting in the back of the Land-Rover with my two brothers. My mother is driving. I am feeling downright miserable. I don’t know why. I am angry at my mother for something she has said or done. I am sulking, feeling the waves of desolation that are me, now. I press my face against the window, not a glass window, but some malleable transparent pane, slightly clouded, which is sown into the thick canvass that covers the back of the Land-Rover. I recognise the distinctive smell of the canvass, feel its texture against my cheek, the freshness of the air blowing in from under the canvass where it is tied to the metal rim. Reassured and somewhat comforted by this tactile experience, I gaze outside. We are driving through a wood of beech trees, meandering along a country lane somewhere is Berkshire. I am immediately drawn into the beauty of the woods. Beauty is palpable, a tangible experience, a profound and pleasant feeling of being overwhelmed. I allow myself to be engulfed by the beauty: the golden flamboyant colours of the leaves shimmering in the afternoon sunlight; the sun filtering through the trees bringing warmth, a soothing balm for my woes; the carpet of thick leaves creating a welcoming underbrush, a place to play and rest. The scene is mesmerising and I take it in, voraciously. My previous wretchedness dissolves in the beauty and I know, instantaneously, that this is how I can experience solace and succour, when overwhelmed by darkness and misery. I melt into the beauty. I am one with beauty. I am. With each movement of surrender unto beauty, in the wisdom and innocence of my young age, I know that this is significant experience for me, an initiation, where I am shown how and where to nourish myself: in beauty, drawing on the guidance of the beech tree.
Throughout my childhood, whenever I felt miserable, I would take myself back to this moment and the experience of the fulness of beauty and love, woven into the fabric of life, overcoming me. Not surprisingly, beech trees have regularly shown up in my life in various ways, becoming benevolently and insistently more present in the last ten years. I know of several places in the woods I have been roaming, where a magnificent beech tree, set in a beautiful grove, radiates the stillness and the clarity conducive to my inner work. I have spent many happy hours meditating and talking to such trees. Currently, I am working with the beech trees that populate Bornholm, developing an intimate relationship, through daily visits, to a group of beech trees in a nearby wood. Here, I am learning to seek and receive bespoke guidance, which serves a greater purpose and my own unfolding, at this time of my life.
The Magic of Forking
On my daily visits, I have been observing how beech trees gather and grow together. Reading the highly acclaimed book by Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Lives of Trees, has helped me deepen my investigations into the energetic signature of the beech tree, particularly relishing in its slowness and complexity. I like the spaciousness between the trees and how they gather around a leading figure to form a community of shared interest and a kinship of conscious intent valuing cooperation. Their gathering is so different from the tightly knotted communities of pine trees, intermingled with birches, that neighbour the majestic display of the beech trees. I enjoy spotting the supreme mother tree within a group, the one who silently leads the community whilst, simultaneously, allowing singularity to express itself. Each tree has its particular expression within the essence of the beech tree. At first glance, a copse of beech trees might appear to us as a spaced-out cluster of upright trunks, standing proudly together, as sentinels to other dimensional realities, crowned with an abundant foliage of small jagged leaves ranging from bright green in spring to ardent russet in autumn. As I wander among them, I feel I am in a cathedral, the trunks becoming the columns of Gothic architecture, the sacredness of a place of worship emerging naturally in the spaces.
The illusion of columns holding the universe invites closer inspection. I have discovered that, beyond appearances, in groups, beech trees do not grow a straightforward trunk stretching vertically upwards towards the light with little side branches. My attentive observations have yielded that beech trees experience a forking or splitting of their trunk. This seems to happen in the early stages of growth, and the fork produces two separate branches creating a distancing-effect, or v-effect, at the core of the trunk. Occasionally, this seminal forking may yield three branches, possibly even four. I am assuming that this forking process happens in the early stages of development and is integrated in the subsequent expansion of the trunk, the traces of which will manifest at different heights. Often, the fork can be seen in the upper part of the tree, just below the bigger umbrella of foliage. Here, the gap between the two main branches is slight and barely discernible through the leaves. It is only visible in winter, when I lift up my head and intently seek to find where the fork presents itself in the wholeness of the tree. The most noticeable forks are to be found at approximately two meters high. Here, the splitting of the trunk into two thick branches is reminiscent of a tuning-fork, evoking those instruments of communication that reverberate vibrations and resonances, ensuring alignment with higher frequencies. No wonder the ancient ones recognised in Phagos Beech a custodian and portal to other dimensional realities. Occasionally, the forking will remain at almost ground level giving the illusion of twin trees connected to the same placenta. The variety of expressions of the beech tree, in its essence and purpose, will never cease to astonish me, particularly when I begin to dismantle my rudimentary, and somewhat naïve, knowledge on trees and access layers of subtleties that are being revealed to me through my loving attention.
Not far from where I live, there is a magnificent beech tree, regal in her posture and prosperous in her expression. My friend Anja discovered her on her first visit to Bornholm in 2017 and she immediately became her tree friend on the island. At the time, this majestic Phagos Beech was nestled among a thick forest of pine trees, close to the road that cuts through the industrial forest. She towers well above the pine trees and her distinctive feature is the fact that the main fork is at ground level, producing two thick trunks that shoot up into the sky spreading out into a multitude of branches and deploying an ample foliage. At first glance, it looks as if there are two trees intermingled for eternity, two lovers united in their destiny, as depicted in Ovid’s poem Baucis and Philemon. This poem from The Metamorphoses narrates the story of an old married couple who were granted their wish to become guardians of the temple and to die together. At death, they are changed into an intertwining pair of trees, an oak and a lime tree (linden), stranded in the swamplands of destruction and punishment inflicted by the gods on those who had refused them hospitality. I remember translating the poem from Latin, at the age of sixteen, feeling deeply moved by the rhythmicity held in the scansion of the words in Latin. The poem is one of the most beautiful lyrical accounts of metamorphosis I have ever come across, the vibrations woven into the words inspiring my own efforts in bridging between languages. I could feel, within me, the movements of becoming tree, embodying the essence of tree. I remember sitting in the school library, tears streaming down my face, as I wrote down my translation, whispering the words in Latin softly, and also attracting strange looks from fellow students.
People stop when driving down the road to admire the noble beech tree posing in her queendom. I pay her regular visits appreciating, each time, her stately appearance among the industrial forest of pines. I often wonder how and why she has been able to flourish in such a way. Anja confided to me that this tree taught her about communion, the simplicity of being together, nourishing each other, while not wanting, nor demanding anything in particular. The simplicity of a relationship with no agenda and no requests sits well with me, love radiating free of all constraints and obligations. I can then rest in the is-ness of the beech tree and relinquish all my questions about why and how. Here, I relish in the sovereignty of the beech tree, offering us her radiant beauty and her love, forever unfolding, forever emanating, forever presented to us to draw upon.
A few months ago, the engineers harvested the timber from the pine forest leaving a big scarred patch. The mutilated landscape is strewn with piles of refuse and big muddy holes where the trees had stood. I was walking down the road when I realised that they had been felling the trees around the majestic beech tree. My heart immediately began to pound as I raced towards the location where she stands, dreading her disappearance in what appeared, to me, to be a massacre of nature, akin to the destruction inflicted upon humanity by the gods in Baucis and Philemon. She has been spared! Moreover, she has gained in beauty, because she now stands erect in her regal apparel amidst the marshlands of what had been a pine forest. Previously, the pine forest had concealed or protected her. Now, she can radiate and fully emanate her beauty and eternal love.
Musings on Intimate Relationships
In my contemplation of the group of beech trees I visit daily, I have stumbled upon a tree which has experienced a severe deformation in her growth. Usually, the forking leads to two almost identical thick branches that spread out evenly, with regular forks higher up, generating the well-proportioned shape of the crown of leaves. In the case of this tree, at the main fork, some two meters above the ground, one branch has developed robustly and forthrightly, following the blueprint of the beech tree. Conversely, the second branch is withered and has unfolded in a tortuous way, revealing many twists and kinks in its development. This branch reminds me of people I use to see in my childhood who had had polio and would limp around with an atrophied limb and metal braces. The fascinating thing is that the healthy branch is supporting the crippled branch. It has produced several side branches that have grown around the scrawny branch and are holding it in place, allowing it to continue to expand as part of the wholeness of the tree. There are many props and buttresses along the healthy branch that the impaired branch has learnt to rely on to heave itself upwards, and the healthy branch has provided more than one arm reaching out and firmly enfolding its vulnerable counterpart. The general appearance of this beech tree is one of a scruffy guard trying to hide, to its best, the crookedness and vulnerabilities it has had to integrate in its development.
The more I gaze at this tree, appreciating the innate cooperation, generously expressed here, the more I can see that the beech tree is telling me something important about intimate relationships; how two people might grow together as one, cooperatively, wholeheartedly nourishing each other, while, simultaneously, fulfilling their unique purpose and expressing the fulness of their being. On one hand, the majestic regal beech tree represents the form of intimate relationship I aspire to; one where each partner is clearly differentiated and, together, the two create harmony and beauty, combining their individual paths, joining their inner capacities and qualities, whilst allowing spaciousness to unfold between and within them. Here, the two strong branches follow their line of development from the beginning, at earth level, and in their growth, they continue to expand integrating spaciousness as they flourish. On the other hand, when contemplating the crippled tree, my experience is very different. At first, I skim over a muffled sense of compassion and awe as I observe how the healthy branch has offered itself to support the growth of the impaired branch. However, my immediate and strongest felt experience is one of growing unease and of feeling uncomfortably squeamish. I am taken to places of clingy neediness, which ignite, in me, a reflex of wanting to shake off the other who leans too heavily on me. I have come across this feeling, mingled with revulsion and disgust, in many relational dynamics where the presence of the other is barely tolerable, so big is my fear of being forced to support the impaired in the name of wholeness. Here, I feel strangled, my breath becomes short, my fear of being colonised raises to alarming heights.
In order to fully discern the contrasts within my experiences and to receive the teachings of the trees on intimate relationships, I was guided to sketch them. Interestingly, it was easy for me to catch the twisted entanglement of the crippled tree and to render the co-dependency of the two branches. I struggled, at first, to outline the harmonious expansion of branches in the majestic tree. As soon as I acknowledged and welcomed my initial struggles, the drawing flowed out of my crayon. Both sketches are now pinned to my work board and I return to them often to pursue my inquiries into intimate relationships, plunging into the subterranean depths of co-dependency.
Time spent contemplating the crippled tree, and sketching both trees, has helped me acknowledge how I am currently feeling in my intimate relationship with John, my husband, where I can barely be in his presence without all the fears of coercion and of being heavily leaned upon erupting violently. New awareness around the way our relational dynamics are playing out occurred the week we were celebrating our second wedding anniversary, followed a few days later by Saint Valentine, times when our cultures suggest that we celebrate our union. We did nothing and hardly spoke to each other. For the past months, we have been living in separate ways each in his and her part of our huge farmhouse. Our interactions are minimal, limited to practicalities that invite collaboration, least we find ourselves entangled in highly activating and excruciatingly painful conversations. We do speculate where love resides, as we stumble and fall on the treacherous terrains of blaming and complaining, the loveless void lurking in the background preparing to engulf us. There is no knowing who and what we will become as we journey along this path. We need to trust, however painful and distressing our situation might appear to be, that this is deep journey into gently uncovering suppressed and denied material, one that will lead to releasing lower-vibrational energies and to align ourselves with and embody higher frequencies of consciousness. We need to tread softly as we scuffle down the lane.
Our constellation of living our separate lives is reminiscent of the two main trunks that compose the regal beech tree: we are both side by side, each doing his and her inner work, practicing in relational spaces with beloved and trusted practice partners. This configuration feels good for me, now. I can rest and soak up the energies offered to me by the majestic beech tree. There are also movements of sadness and grief when I get in contact with flavours of what, for me, is unrequited love. I begin to welcome all those times I feel attracted to intimate relationships and, at the same time, turn away, abruptly, when I get whiffs of suffocating closeness that overwhelm me. I was particularly touched, for instance, by John’s moving account of spending the evening of Saint Valentine’s in the company of elderly men, where they tasted qualities of love unknown of hitherto. I rejoice in this experience of love, although I am not physically present, delighting that this has been recognised and, simultaneously, I feel sad that, for the time being, we seem not to be able to share this in co-presence. Deep down, I know that this is a necessary step in dismantling old structures that do not serve our greater unfoldment. I grieve my old beliefs around romantic love and what it should look like. I touch on my barely-acknowledged expectations in terms of being cherished and cared for by my partner and, thus, also my fears of being rejected and abandoned, yet again, in all those desires that are never satisfied and seem out of reach of any form of fulfilment.
These times of ever-refined discernment feel so lonely. I welcome my feelings of failure, unworthiness and of being undeserving of love. I feel confusion and despair when working with the proposition that to consent to love is to take on responsibility for the welfare of others as much as myself. When suffocating closeness wraps its clinging fingers around me, I hear my cry of desperation. Am I capable of that level of love and that level of responsibility without tangling myself up in my beliefs and experiences around taking on responsibilities? Can I be the healthy branch of the crippled tree who offers itself for the growth of the other? My defensive answer echoes back. Why would I do that when I aspire to become a regal beech tree, expressing my sovereignty and creatorship in the company of others, and with an intimate partner?
I am aware that what I am presencing, at first hand, as being thwarted love and distortions within intimate relationships in being reflected back to me through my intimate observations of the beech trees and my willingness to be shown those inner structures within me that are preventing me from fulfilling my highest purpose in this life. I am being shown the intricate layers of unrequited love, co-dependency, amorphous we-ness, akin to a boundaryless fusion, a symbiosis that occurs at the cost of individual sovereignty, strewn with depleting and self-defeating compromises. At the level of the personality, it would be very tempting, albeit a total misrepresentation, to recognise in the crippled tree a reflection of my relationship with John where I am the healthy branch, with skilled inner capacities and solid ego strengths, being hindered in my expansion because of needing to support a weaker counterpart with underdeveloped egoic structures. This would be totally misleading as much as it would be an illusion to believe that I am eternally banished from the type of harmonious relationship I perceive in the majestic tree. What I am accessing, through my observations, is just as much out there, in the relational spaces, as within, burrowed in my inner landscape. It belongs to much deeper layers of the human psyche that, curiously, no longer appear to me as my issues and traumatic material to deal with, but take on more collective qualities, deeply buried in the frozen layers of humanity’s permafrost.
Time for me to gently and lovingly bring awareness to those parts in me that strangle and hinder my creativity, all bundled up that they are in my struggles to step off the line of duty. Time for me to shed my tenacious beliefs about needing to take on more responsibilities in order to receive rare tokens of love. Time for me to unpack the convoluted layers that compose my belief structures on love and to allow unconditional love, clothed in qualities I do not know of, to sweep me away as I surrender to life-forces awaiting my presence and participation. Time for me, also, to relinquish all forms of arrogance and self-righteousness that clamp down harmonious unfolding and becoming.
As I sieved through these layers and witnessed the old structures creaking and groaning, I kept going back to the structure of the majestic beech tree with its two branches flourishing in harmony. As I was drawing the outline of the tree, I spotted the large space within the principal fork that is an integral part of the splendour of the tree. It needs little imagination to see that the aperture is shaped like a heart. I started gazing into this space and I noticed that the vibratory qualities were constantly shifting. Was I seeing emptiness or spaciousness? Was I presencing separation or differentiation? Hate or Love? Dependency or independence? Co-dependency or sovereignty? The answer is that all of these qualities are present, simultaneously, and I can choose what is there in the space between us. I can choose which beech tree to model in all my relationships, including my intimate relationship with John. Is it to be the majestic regal beech tree or the brave, albeit deformed tree? And what if I can be both? Can I include all the ambivalences I rub myself up against when I believe that there is an either/or decision to make when the sovereign choice can only be inclusive of all?
I went through a tempestuous dance with my ambivalences swaying, frantically, between polarised perspectives with, on one hand, sovereign singularity held within exquisitely framed wholeness and, on the other hand, clinging neediness entrapped in a nebulous undifferentiated mass that could swallow me up and take me away from the joy and delight of life. The tension was such that my splitting headache and my bodily weariness were begging me to lie down and to surrender. Stop trying to reconcile what appears to be irreconcilable! Let go, whatever! So, I simply laid down, exhausted and utterly depleted, my body vessel clenched. It felt as if my brain was cramping, trying to expel tramlines of thought, impossible equations, sending electric shocks through the body. My mind, still trying to explain the physical phenomenon, pondered about strokes and other life-threatening conditions. I held that option lightly and immediately knew, from deep down within myself, that I was not dying and that I was being presented with the option of bearing witness to an experience of dying. I surrendered to the experience, fearless and trusting, and let myself drop.
I then found myself in a place where I was utterly alone. No other being. No expectations. No demands. Death as the ultimate separation from the human experience and the messiness of human relationships. This felt deliciously enjoyable and restful. The part of me witnessing my surrender to death was able to notice that this experience was very different from usual accounts of passing over, such as in near death experiences, where people report being reunited with love ones, a sense of overwhelming love and light, and returning to oneness with all beings of consciousness. At that point, and in my state of awareness, the idea of finding myself huddled and bonded with billions of beings of consciousness for eternity was terrifying and repulsive. With curiosity and loving interest, I allowed myself to dance again between the pristine aloneness and immaculate isolation where I had felt compelled to go upon my experience of death. Here, I could take a closer look at my fear of promiscuity, the terror of finding myself in close company with others, something that has threaded itself throughout my life. What has become of my innate collective nature? Why am I feeling so threatened by others? Why am I choosing solitude and, thereby, thoroughly enjoying the confinement and social distancing?
A few days later, I was able to share this experience with a trusted practice partner, Deirdre. We had convened, precisely, to inquire into and explore our physical death. Deirdre had recently been involved in accompanying a beloved friend to the threshold of death, and beyond, a profound and moving experience opening up to fresh perspectives around physical death. I had had this strange and nonetheless beautifully soothing experience of dying to self. Once I had described my experience, words bringing back the different layers compressed in the experience, Deirdre asked me how it felt to be on the other side. Two sensations presented themselves to me. I felt fully embodied in my sovereign selfhood and, most significantly, I felt carefree. As soon as the word ‘carefree’ was offered into the space, I experienced myself flying, effortlessly crossing multiple boundaries and traversing many dimensional realities. Gone were the contractions and the defensiveness around my boundaries, here arises a world of porous membranes where I no longer feel threatened.
This is exhilarating and ecstatic. Still not a soul around me. I am on my own, floating in eternity. I feel free and released of all responsibilities and duties. Finally, I can be myself, relish in my own company and follow all my impulses, however crazy, maybe better still if they are crazy. There is no one to stop me and call me back. There is no one to weigh me down with the burden of responsibilities and duties. I am carefree. I am carefree.
Carefree. A word asking to be unpacked. Free of care. Free of needing to care for others. Colourful bubbles start to burst around me, like fireworks celebrating some life event. Instantaneously, all the life experiences that have brought me to my knees each time I inquire into the relationship between love and responsibility, my painful experiences around love and caring for, emerged clearly as the perfect life-curriculum for me to pursue my incarnational purpose. I know that shame is deeply embedded in my relationship with my mother. I retrieve all memories of being made to feel ashamed for being selfish and inconsiderate when I opposed her instructions to take on responsibilities and tasks. Heartbroken, I witness my capitulation as I strive to comply orders in the hope of obtaining approval and possibly a few morsels of love that seemed to be so scarce. I am here to bear witness to this and to explore the sedimented layers in which the proposition that to consent to love is to take on responsibility for the welfare of life is thwarted and distorted within the human experience. I recognise the truth of this and I instinctively know that I still have something to offer here, in this inquiry, without being able to say how this will manifest. This is why I knew I was not dying when I laid my weary head down and surrendered. I knew that there is something calling me and asking for my loving attention, more of it, all of it. I am unscathed. I know that I am not complete in my life-trajectory. Neither am I ready to pass over. The exciting journey has barely started. This is fun! In my surrender, I receive the truth of my higher purpose in life and touch my carefree essence. I trust. I am trust.
A few days after this delightful realisation, I stood in front of my wholeness roadmap for 2021 perusing the invocations for my highest unfolding that I have chosen to work with this year. Where does this highly disturbing and disquieting experience around intimate relationships land? My eyes go to the part where I have invoked equanimity for myself, after several years of working on emotional self-regulation and detachment. Here, I invoke learning to hold contrasted experiences and to expand my inner capacities through presencing in wholeness. In my unfolding of equanimity, the resources available for me are trust and acting on daily intuition. Humiliation is the experience I am likely to rub up against and it will throw my off balance. Indeed, acts of humiliation and shaming are what I have often experienced when I have opposed responsibilities that do not feel mine to take on, dreading the consequences of my opposition to forms of coercion and subjugation. In order to welcome and lovingly hold all these experiences, I have added on my board, “I befriend my fears and welcome the wisdom beneath all pain and all suffering”.
The beech trees will continue to guide and assist me in my inquiries, as will all my companions who have embarked, willingly and consciously, to inquire into the fascinating experience of life on Earth.