It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The teacher need not be a long-robed, long-bearded Master; for the willing student, the teacher could be a child, a stranger at the grocery store, a bird, or in this case, a tree. One way or another, when the student is ready the teaching appears.
Along the route that I take my daily walk stands a tree that, in the summer, offers up juicy sweet mulberries. For many years now I have enjoyed them - plucking a handful as I start my walk and another as I end it. First as an incentive and then as a reward. Since it is tucked away from the main road, the tree is not as visible to the passerby. So, enjoying those berries has been like a secret, exclusive treat from Mother Nature.
I recently set out for my walk one bright morning, my heart open with joy and good thoughts for the world until I came upon my tree. To my dismay, there was a woman plucking those berries. What was worse was that she had a Ziploc bag which she was systematically filling with the fruit.
In an instant, my good thoughts for the world were gone. I was livid! How could she do this, I raged within myself. I passed her by quietly but my good spirits had flown away. I barely enjoyed the walk, feeling cheated and betrayed, even as I realized how ridiculous it was to feel entitled to sole enjoyment of the tree which was on public property!
After the first few minutes, I slowed down, calming myself. Memories of similar feelings from a long time ago of fighting with my siblings for my mother’s love and attention came rushing back. I saw that although now an adult, I was still unwilling to share Mother Nature’s love with my siblings on the planet. Let go, let go, let go, I said to myself as I breathed and practiced the lessons I teach in my classes: breathing in, I see my pouting inner child. Breathing out, I smile at her and let her fears go. Breathing in I see her fears, breathing out, I assure her all is well. That entire walk was dedicated to Lesson # 1: Open your heart, release fear, and share.
Two days later I was out on my walk again, this time with my daughter Amrita whom I had told about the earlier episode and its Lesson# 1. As we approached the tree, I heard her say, “Oh no, Mom, look!” Once again there was someone else by “my” tree. This time it was a man. Tall and reaching even higher, he was merrily picking away. This time I was better equipped. I breathed through and smiled away my fear of not being left with any berries for me to enjoy. It was all okay, I reassured myself.
But my daughter was not satisfied with that. “Mind if I do something crazy, Mom?” she asked.
“No, what did you have in mind?” I enquired.
The next thing I knew, Amrita was taking a deep breath as she yelled, “STOP PLUCKING BERRIES FROM THAT TREEEE!”
The man looked up, startled, almost as much as I was. For one wild moment, I thought he was going to come chasing us. I grabbed her hand and the two of us ran away as fast as our cowardly legs could carry us! We kept running until we ran into the park nearby and when we felt “safe,“ still panting, we lay on the grass and laughed uncontrollably. Lesson #2 was sinking in: What cannot be controlled must be lightened up; develop a sense of humor about your irrational emotions, do something crazy and harmless!
Two times was too much; that was it. My message was to detach. I told myself it was no longer “my” tree. It never had been. It was a tree on public property that everyone had access to. I needed to depersonalize the whole thing.
On my next walk, as I approached the tree, I saw there was no one. I walked past it, part of me not wanting to look at the tree - much like not meeting the eyes of an old friend who had broken a shared bond. I felt sadder but wiser. Besides, there was nothing left, I was sure. Two ambitious cherry pickers had pretty much denuded the tree. Yet, despite myself, I stole a quick glance. To my surprise, right at my eye level there it was - a big luscious bunch of mulberries, just waiting for me to reach out and pluck them. Delighted, I did just that and ate them as I proceeded on my walk.
I wondered how two people plucking away had not managed to take my “share,” and surmised that since they were both taller than me they had missed the berries available at my eye-level. For once in my life I was grateful for my short stature! Mother Nature seemed to be giving me a message - the Tree of Life is abundant and has something for everyone who seeks at the very level they are at. Each fruit is visible to the person it is meant for alone and nobody else.
Lesson # 3 was powerful and healing. Man’s happiness on earth depends upon a relationship of trust in Nature. Trust is built through a mindful interpretation of our stories. An interpretation coming from scarcity creates fear and competition. Many of us have always seen life like this, raised in families who saw it this way.
I saw this as an opportunity to connect the dots differently: Nature is unconditionally generous and wants each of us to have our fill. There is enough for everybody if we are only open and present to what we have available to us instead of looking at another’s plate or, for that matter, another’s Ziploc bag!
As I chewed on the berries and the message, I was thankful for the teachings that we are offered in the course of everyday life. Much better than any great books by learned scholars, these messages from our very life can be directly received. By changing our perceptions and stories, we get to embody the lesson and live it. All we need for this to happen is to be present to these silent tutorials from life.
The next day I passed by the tree again and this time experienced it very differently. Instead of a secret bond that excluded the world, I now felt a deep connection that included others, seeing it as our shared gift. I sent it a smile of gratitude and prepared to receive the next teaching.