page fifteen: The Upside-Down Christmas Tree
A few days ago I was reading somewhere that there has been a global trend these days to put up Christmas trees upside-down. There have been many reactions to this change, some of them against it, but I found it to be fascinating. A big part of me wondered if it is a metaphor for a much bigger shift in consciousness. Here are some thoughts on the subject.
The human being and our life on earth has long been compared to a tree. Our torso is the tree trunk that holds us upright and our feet are held to the ground by roots that dig into the soil. Like a tree, we are asked to stand tall, although subject to gravity, to seek nourishment from Mother Earth, and to share the fruits of our labor unconditionally. Many rituals and stories have been created around this, the Tree of Life.
Whenever we feel out of touch with our physical reality, we can use the metaphor of the tree or go out and hug a tree, to ground ourselves back into the earth and feel “embodied” again.
This comparison of a human being to a tree has our identity rooted in a reality that is solid and definite, which is our body. When we experience our flights of fantasy and imagine great possibilities, we are like the taller branches of a tree that reach for the stars. Yet our identity is still firmly rooted in the soil of our earthly body. We are human beings who sometimes fly out and touch the stars or have a spiritual experience, but the earth is our real home.
In contrast, spiritual teachings talk of human life differently. We are compared to an upside-down tree - its roots in heaven and its trunk coming down to earth, heading for the ground. I first learned of this tree when I read the Bhagavad Gita (the sacred teachings of the Hindus) where an entire chapter (Ch. 15) is dedicated to the “Upside-down Tree.” In more recent years as I expanded my spiritual journey, I learned that the symbol of the Upside-Down Tree was found in religions in the West as well, going back to the Middle Ages.
The Upside-down tree was meant as a metaphor for human life that has its roots in heaven and works its way down to become visible and tangible, bringing heaven here to earth. Despite the external appearances and factors that form our human identity, this symbol reminds us that our true nature is spirit, not matter.
According to this understanding, we are material expressions of heavenly possibilities and therefore all literally Gods on earth. The ancient Hindus believed there were 33 million Gods and Goddesses, all expressions of a single Source. I sometimes wonder if they simply came upon that number by taking a census and arriving at the population at that time to send us a message: the message being that we are, each one of us, expressions of the Divine in so many forms, shapes, colors, opinions, and so on.
Assuming that our basic identity is Life itself with our roots in infinity enables us to view our human flaws and imperfections as temporal, and hence temporary. We are, as they say, Divine Beings having a human experience and not the other way around. Yet most of the world has been stuck in an unconscious identification with outward appearances.
The emergence of the upside-down Christmas tree, at this time in our history, feels like a hopeful sign for me. Just as sailors view seagulls as a sign that land is somewhere on the horizon, maybe, just maybe, after all the storms that we have weathered, these trees are letting us know we are turning a corner and are closer to returning to our heavenly roots.
I am reminded of a story in Hindu mythology that talks about a time long, long ago when the world was in great turmoil. The Gods and the Demons, representing the polarities on the planet, had fought many endless wars together and created much anguish for the people on earth. Then the Supreme Spirit intervenes, asking them to churn the ocean to draw forth from its depths the nectar of immortality which would give eternal life to both sides, and bring about peace.
The story is a powerful metaphor for the process, the “churnings” that life often puts us through so that a new path or consciousness may come forth, one that is life enhancing for both sides.
As our world continues to churn, the emergence of the upside-down tree could be a sign heralding the beginning of new times, the birth of a new age, one that is founded on our common basic identity despite our individual differences.