What I Learned From Trees

Herman Hesse

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. 

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

Herman Hesse was a Nobel Laureate, most famous for his book Siddhartha. Above excerpt was from his book Wandering: Notes and Sketches. (Thanks, Maria.)

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that every path leads homeward? Can you share a personal experience of a time you were inspired to be who you are? When you listen to trees, what do you hear?

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12 Previous Reflections:

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    On Feb 14, 2019 Balachandran wrote:
    A tree is sufficient to teach Humanity all the lessons it need! Nicely written. Thank you for sharing

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    On Feb 13, 2019 Trees, I love wrote:
    Very simply, what I learned from trees is that I am planted in the goodness of His soil. Rooted in everything about Him. I am drawn to the sun/Son. I produce fruit, He designed me to produce. I am dependent on Him, totally, for my growth and existence. When He ordains, I will fall back to the earth I came from. One with it and the One Who created it.

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    On Feb 13, 2019 Jodyne wrote:
    Q: How do you relate to the notion that every path leads homeward? The instructions from the Creator are written inside each of us, not with words or language as we know it, but more like instinct. We were created to be good, to succeed, to thrive. Yet I do believe there are two paths.. one leads to life and the other to death. The one leading to life is the easier one because that is the way we are created to be. One path leads to light and truth and the other is to darkness and lies. If we live according to the light and truths we know we are going to live and grow and one day be glorified. But if we live by the lies we have heard and been taught we begin to suffer and lose what light we have and one day we find we are living in darkness. When the people of the earth each search for light and truth we may be traveling on different paths yet be traveling towards the same destination. There are many walks of faith around the world, and all of them encourage a walk towards truth and... [View Full Comment] Q: How do you relate to the notion that every path leads homeward?
    The instructions from the Creator are written inside each of us, not with words or language as we know it, but more like instinct. We were created to be good, to succeed, to thrive. Yet I do believe there are two paths.. one leads to life and the other to death. The one leading to life is the easier one because that is the way we are created to be. One path leads to light and truth and the other is to darkness and lies. If we live according to the light and truths we know we are going to live and grow and one day be glorified. But if we live by the lies we have heard and been taught we begin to suffer and lose what light we have and one day we find we are living in darkness.

    When the people of the earth each search for light and truth we may be traveling on different paths yet be traveling towards the same destination. There are many walks of faith around the world, and all of them encourage a walk towards truth and light.

    Q: Can you share a personal experience of a time you were inspired to be who you are?
    A: I have discovered that no matter how old I was,when I was ready to learn and grow, teachers and mentors appeared. Inspiration came from my parents, grandparents, teachers, my peers, co-workers, and now that I am older many people who are younger then me.

    I can name names but I won't do that here [as I don't have their permission to post it here]. But I do remember my mother's example of prayer and faith esp when she was troubled or depressed. My grandparents example of steadfastness and faith in God. When I was but a child I remember the talks and stories of some of the older people in the village we lived in, they were not religious in nature but they were voices of light and examples to me how to stay on the path of light and truth. As an adult I had a Christian counselor who accepted me like family, he mentored me for several years and his commitment changed my life forever. And some time during mid-life I joined several small groups that have inspired me to stay focused and to continue to learn more and new life skills. Various groups inspire me today; some religious but most non-religious. All of them have enriched the quality of my life, and all of them have inspired me.

    Q: When you listen to trees, what do you hear?
    I hear LIFE.

    The tree has not the burden of domestication. It just IS. It does not struggle to be who it is supposed to be.

    And the Sacred Tree is a POWERFUL SYMBOL that teaches me about who I should be. It is a tool, that I can use.. a mirror that I can look into and see possibilities of who I can be if I work hard and strive to become who the Creator intended I become.   [Hide Full Comment]

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    On Feb 12, 2019 Cindy wrote:
    Thanks for this. I’ve always loved Hesse for Siddhartha but didn’t know of this work. For all these reasons he cites, I too have always loved trees..I remember crying hysterically as a child when a neighbor cut his giant pecan for seemingly no reason. Now i can explain why.

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    On Feb 12, 2019 Betty Lou Helsel wrote:
    His Majesty

    Stately magnificence,reaching to the heavens. Glorifying God in simple stance. How regal you remain on shaky ground. Persons parallel without recourse. Never attaining pure acceptance. What secrets can you tell me as you silently whisper our names. We need only listen to hear the voice of God. Quiet now, hear the singing.

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    On Feb 12, 2019 Paula Achenbach wrote:
    We have so many lessons to learn from trees. I am reminded daily of god speaking through them.

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    On Feb 12, 2019 Sethi wrote:
    When I listen to trees , the message comes across of about the sacrifices they have made not only for humans , but for all living beings . They also convey the cruelty they have to suffer at times , for the trees that bears the sweetest fruits are the targets of maximum stones by humans . As a little child while staying with my grandparents , the date palm trees were a significant landmark to my grand parents home and as a child when I saw those trees , I understood that I was homeward bound and there would be joy within me .

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    On Feb 12, 2019 joanmarie t parkin wrote:
    beautiful passage ! i came to Britush Columbia and was welcomed by giant first growth Cedar and Hemlock guardians of the Universe. i live in India and meditate beneath Humongous Baobab trees....I hug serene Tall Cottonwood sentinels at 8000 feet in southern Colorado mountains...as a child i hugged the huge oaks in Central Park Manhatten. New YORK...I AM 70...a buddhust nun....i think that i shall never see a religion or philosophy more perfect than a TREE.... 

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    On Feb 11, 2019 chinusreenivasan wrote:
    A deeply reflective passage. Thank you! 

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    On Feb 9, 2019 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    Herman Hesse is one of my most favourite authors. When I read his book Siddhartha, I got deeply connected with Siddhartha, Gautam Buddha. Siddhartha woke me up to be aware of the self-created and self-sustained suffering cycle and how to be free from suffering. It helped me to look within and examine the cause of suffering and how to liberate myself from the bondage of suffering. When I sit quietly and be still,I feel the presence of my awakened self, feel grounded and feel peaceful. I feel like being at home. This is my inward voyage to find myself and how come home. Several years ago I attended a weekend retreat to explore significant questions like Who I am? Why am here? What is the meaning or purpose of life? How can I liberate? We were given two days of silence for exploring these questions.The last half of the day was designed to present and share our significant learning experiences with the whole group of twenty persons. We were given 15 minutes to be by ourselves to come up w... [View Full Comment] Herman Hesse is one of my most favourite authors. When I read his book Siddhartha, I got deeply connected with Siddhartha, Gautam Buddha. Siddhartha woke me up to be aware of the self-created and self-sustained suffering cycle and how to be free from suffering. It helped me to look within and examine the cause of suffering and how to liberate myself from the bondage of suffering. When I sit quietly and be still,I feel the presence of my awakened self, feel grounded and feel peaceful. I feel like being at home. This is my inward voyage to find myself and how come home.

    Several years ago I attended a weekend retreat to explore significant questions like Who I am? Why am here? What is the meaning or purpose of life? How can I liberate? We were given two days of silence for exploring these questions.The last half of the day was designed to present and share our significant learning experiences with the whole group of twenty persons. We were given 15 minutes to be by ourselves to come up with creative ways tor sharing and discussing our signifiant learning experiences. I shared my significant learning experiences by requesting the group to do Mindfulness Meditation for 10 minutes. Then I showed them the picture I had drawn during the 15 minutes of my personal time.The picture was the Tree of Life. This picture represented my life: rootedness, growth, connectedness, aloneness still connected with myself and with others, swings of ups and downs, offering unselfish service, inner wealth, supporting and nourishing, the flow of life, a sense of home coming.

    When I mindfully watch and quietly listen to the whisperings of trees, I get connected with the Tree of Life. I realize the truth of living. I see oneness in manyness, self-nurturing and nurturing others, giving gifts of love lovingly, voice of harmony and wholeness and holiness.

    Let us hug the Tree of Life lovingly.
    Namaste![Hide Full Comment]

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    On Feb 9, 2019 David Doane wrote:
    I look at trees and marvel at their majesty. As a child I climbed many trees and loved to be in them. They were my playground and my sanctuary. They held me. Today I appreciate the picture of the tree of life in my office. Even having a good relationship with trees, I haven't listened to trees in the way that Hesse describes. I am made of the same stuff as trees, so every tree is a path that leads homeward, leads me home from whence I come. I had a mentor whom I very much looked up to, and he always insisted that I follow my own nose and not imitate him, which supported and inspired me to be who I am. A tree is itself, not imitating any other tree, and listening to it could further inspire me to be all that I am. When I listen to trees, I hear rustling and creaking -- it's telling me much more -- I will listen more closely.

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    On Feb 8, 2019 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:
     Oh my goodness this passage is breathtaking.

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