Jul 27, 2020, 15:05 IST

Trees Are So Wise, Generous And Comforting

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Blackie was a dog who lived in Kodaikanal, a hill station in the Western Ghats. She went missing a year ago. She was a very pleasant dog but would bark her head off at any hint of intrusion. And she was never sick unless she stepped on a sharp object or got grazed by a speeding vehicle when she disappeared on one of her jaunts.

Blackie would position herself against the bark of one or other of the old trees that dotted the grounds of the household where she lived. She wasn’t looking for shade, because the spot she chose would have ample sunshine.

Maybe Blackie absorbed some of the equanimity and tranquility that the trees seem to exude, as sentinels of wisdom, as it were, always unfazed, yet so giving, even as they soar skyward. Resting against the tree’s generous trunk must have been very comforting indeed.

Perhaps this is what inspired sages to meditate beneath trees, and many experienced enlightenment, too, and am pretty sure the tree had a hand in it. Both the Buddha and Mahavira are popularly depicted seated under a tree, oozing calm and wisdom, comforting all who came to them for succour.

So, too, other wise souls who gave their discourses from a tree spot – as Jesus Christ often did.

At some of the old educational institutions in Chennai that doubled as schools of philosophy like the Theosophical Society, most classes were held in the open, under a banyan tree and surrounded by other trees, even though ample building space was available. Maybe the arboreal environment engendered better learning and remembering, rather than being lectured to in a classroom.

Evolutionary biologist Edward O Wilson in his book ‘Biophilia’, talked of how human beings (perhaps other species, too) have a biological urge to commune with Earth, the primordial mother, that nurtures us. This proclivity he called ‘biophilia’ – the word has its root in the Greek word ‘bios’ that means life, and ‘philos’ which means loving.

“Trees can help you find health and happiness,” says scientist Qing Li, who wrote on the Japanese tradition of shinrin yoku, forest bathing – that is, spending time in the forest, closely communing with trees, and allowing all the senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste) to interact with the forest. The concept is to just be in the forest, and let the forest caress and heal you as you open up all your senses to receive its grace.

A reader wrote in to ‘The New York Times’ recently, on time spent during the pandemic:

“Make a picnic and spend half a day sitting at the base of a tree, knitting or reading, anything that does not rely on the phone,” she wrote. “I find tree sitting for more than an hour removes all the tension or any pain in my body.”

Of course, tree sitting was a term that was used to refer to what green activists did, living on trees to prevent them from being cut down. But here, she means something like forest bathing.

Interestingly, scientists have found that spending time with trees boosts one’s immunity, via phytonicides -- essential oils released by trees and plants to defend against insects, animals and decomposition -- something we sorely need with the Covid-19 pandemic being in no hurry to go away.



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