I can tell you this… if you don’t think I am crazy yet, you might just now…
This is a lovely tree behind the main building at Upaya Zen Center.
While I was there, I named it The Hugging Tree.
But I need to back up for a second…
I’ve written about my mentor, Lois, before. Lois was not a Buddhist. She was an incredibly spiritual being who was a breast cancer survivor, AIDS activist, diversity champion, social worker, healer, and probably what she was known for more than anything. . . the world’s BEST hugger.
Yes, I am sure if there was an award, she would have received it.
Lois held nothing back in her hugs. . . just like her life. . .
When Lois gave you a hug, you knew that you were being hugged.
Fully body, toe to toe, thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder kind of hug. . . this was true when she was hugging her partner Wayne, when she was speaking about dying, when she was at the hospital with a client, or when she was comforting a friend after a walk at Radnor Lake.
Lois died the week of the 9/11 attacks. Even though we lost someone in the attacks, the Lois of such a wise and healing person was hardly eclipsed.
Anyway, while I was walking around Upaya taking photos, I decided to just lean across this tree in the photo above. It is located near the place where I did my work period, watering the raised beds containing herbs and other greens.
The view was breath-taking and I just settled in. I put the camera away and just allowed my breath to become deep and centered. And tremendous grief came up for me. I leaned deeper into the tree and realized that from the side of the tree I was standing against, the two parts of the tree came up like arms and I felt like I was getting a hug.
Now, it was my first trip to Upaya, and I had not been on retreat in some time. I didn’t want to turn around and give the tree a proper hug for fear that a call might be made to the local psych unit. But I stayed there awhile, nonetheless, and allowed myself to be supported by this assuming tree. I allowed the energy of the tree to embrace me just as the branches and trunk did.
Maybe it was just being so thoroughly opened by the documentary on justice and reconciliation in war-torn areas? Maybe it was being around the combination of Frank and Roshi Joan who both embodied so many of the things I admired about Lois, her deeply compassionate heart and gentleness that Frank possesses and her fearlessness and strength from Roshi.
Maybe it was just that I was open-hearted unlike I feel like I can be in some situations I find myself in daily.
But I allowed whatever “it” was to come. I greeted the opportunity to settle in and feel support like I have not felt in a long time. I felt grounded, connected, and solid, much the way the gathas goes. . . breathing in, I am solid as a mountain, breathing out, I am as free as the river. . .
Whatever was going on, I was very connected to something very ancient that seemed to be wiser than the conscious mind, deeper than everyday existence. . . in those moments that I laid my head against the branch of this lovely tree, I felt connected to all those healers, shamans, mystics, mothers, fathers, and priests (priestesses) that have been touched by death and were present to the miracles that accompany dying and those they love.
I might not have my lovely friend and mentor any more but I know have her to share with you and with those whose lives I touch.
She has become a doorway into that lineage of masters, teachers, and healers for me.
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, those who have come and share perennial wisdom and compassion and we honor that in our traditions through prayers, chants, devotionals, etc.
I think it is important that we find ways to embody this connection as well, a true lived-experience, and not only in our hearts and minds. And it is easy to stay in our hearts as caregivers or in our minds as academics.
At least, for me it is easy to bounce between being in one place or the other and I have to remind myself to be whole, present, and mindful.
So, I made a new friend while I was away. And I hope it did not mind the name I gave it. I connected to a great sense of tradition and really deep love, feeling part of such a timeless sangha.
I hope if you ever visit Upaya, you go share your hug and love with this tree. Or you find a tree or piece of the earth that allows you to open and be present to all the wisdom and good in the world.
- Day Three @ Upaya Zen Center (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Cultivating Compassion for Ourselves – Thoughts from Upaya (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Day Two – Taking In the Three Jewels (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- The Tasks of Grief (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Socially Engaged Buddhism… Bits and Pieces (jizochronicles.com)