In the wake of the worst spring bushfire season QLD and NSW has ever seen – unprecedented destruction of ancient rainforest as well as native habitats, pasture, land and country – I find myself in the Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery, 10 km out of Lismore for a week long Vipassana retreat.
People have travelled far to be here, helped prepare for or fight fires approaching their homes in the weeks leading up to the retreat. The retreat’s location moved once already due to a fire in the north. There is a feeling of quiet desperation, deep sadness and trauma as we sit, stand, and walk in community around 95 acres of drought stricken northern rivers land that is in the process of being lovingly reforested. In the last 7 years, 8,000 local rainforest trees, as well as koala food trees have already been planted.
It’s here in this solitude, in the intensity of the present moment, that I allow myself to grieve and feel the waves of sadness. Everything must, and will change radically. The old way of doing things is dead. With a smoke haze obliterating the sun, a fierce wind and temperatures in the meditation hall around 35 degrees, I develop a deep appreciation for trees. Guided by our exceptional Dhamma Teacher, Christopher Titmuss, I enter a world where the trees speak and sing in ways that I have never heard before…
A little sapling I am born into the world,
Take root in the earth.
Nourished through the skin of Mother Earth.
Shaded and protected as I grow by my elders.
Just like you.
I remember you used to hate wind,
But now wind helps you to know me better.
Listen to my song under the Bodhi tree.
It’s like prayer flags fluttering.
Or my voice under the bare pecan branches,
Silhouetted against a waning winter sky.
A jet engine humming, sighing, creaking, roaring.
My advice dear one,
Adopt a tree if you need a new parent or sibling.
Mother becomes an elegant jacaranda, a carpet of mauve to lie on.
Sister a flame tree iridescent in her beauty.
Imagine a Grevillea robusta for your father,
Sit with your back against me.
Meditate under my shady branches.
Lean into me and I’ll support you.
Wrap your arms around me and weep.
A reminder that we are both of this earth.
See, you need me more than I need you.
Grow old with me.
Count the rings, the deep curved lines.
Notches to the storm seasons weathered,
In both our lives
Let the old skin of my bark curl and fall away,
Revealing the softness of my trunk.
We are full of grace as we age.
Our time on this earth is limited.
I can feel the ambivalence of your grief,
Awe and grandeur as you witness me.
See the massive staghorns and the lichen taking refuge,
And the burnt landscape of our suffering.
Has gone too far, too fast.
We may well fall down together.
In the sixth great extinction,
And emerge as inseparable.
photo credit: John Brighenti via photopin