Sometimes it’s easier to understand ourselves by using something else as our lens. Let’s take that tree outside your window.
As an analogy, this particular example is especially helpful given that a tree is rooted in the ground, growing up and out to participate in its local and regional ecosystem. Lots of fascinating connotations attach to this reality of the ground: how its dark, deep, and hidden mystery provides the support and nourishment that a tree requires to live and grow.
Mystical traditions around the world have contemplated these virtues of the ground in their favored metaphor of Being-itself: of the grounding Mystery, Ground of Being, essential Reality, the Being in beings, and creative Source of all things.
Your tree has grown up from the ground and into its distinctive BODY by a kind of extroverted (upward and outward) flow of energy. It also reaches back down into the ground by an introverted (inward and downward) channel, which you can think of as its SOUL. Through its root system, the tree seeks out deeper sources of minerals, water, and other essential elements.
You might imagine this communion of the tree and its ground as a dark, still, and silent place – a wellspring of quiet presence and deep inner peace. This is where the tree “goes” to find solitude.
Let’s just continue with this imaginative exercise of personifying the tree outside your window by further imagining that it possesses some sense of itself as a centered individual. There is clearly an intelligence that informs its structure and governs the circulation of its life-energy. It wouldn’t be such a stretch to acknowledge this as the MIND of the tree, or as the power of mind in the tree.
Mind, here, simply refers to the tree’s capacity of sentience: that it can sense the energy and warmth of the sun, the location of water and various nutrient deposits, the strain of the wind on its limbs, maybe even the weight of birds on its branches and the vibration of bees in its flowers. Inside all of these peripheral sensations is the tree’s sense of itself as their center, witness, and observer.
If your tree has a sense of itself as a centered individual, then perhaps it also possesses an EGO – a self-conscious identity (“I”) as one tree among many, occupying this spot in the yard, trying to figure out the meaning of existence and the purpose of life. Gathering its power of mind into a center of self-conscious identity has the interesting effect of drawing some of its sentience away from the ground beneath, as well as bringing into relief the fact that there are other individuals close by and farther away.
As a consequence of its growing self-preoccupation, that introverted channel to a grounded inner peace is no longer as carefully attended. And there is a growing concern as well over what its neighbors are up to. Can they be trusted?
Paradoxically, this emergent ability to regard others has opened another, subtler, line of perception – almost as if your tree can feel what they are feeling, even if it is only remembering, imagining, and projecting into them what it has experienced for itself.
This – what is it? – empathic intuition suggests the existence of a kind of connective web stretching between, across, and throughout the multiplicity of things. The tree’s acute sense of separation, which followed as a consequence of consciousness contracting into its own individual center of self-conscious identity, was, oddly enough, a prerequisite to this awareness of participating with others in a vibrant web of life.
Connection bridges over separation and actually preserves the distance it overcomes. In other words, if not for the fact of having a separate center, only as it successfully becomes an individual and impounds a unique subjective sense of itself (ego), the tree would not have the awareness or capacity to feel connected to something else.
Of course, on its lonelier days you would have a tough time convincing your tree of this truth.
Our meditation on the tree outside your window is not quite finished. The presence of a sympathetic web connecting it to its neighbors, and to all the other others – separate individuals of every kind and variety – elevates your tree’s awareness to the mystery of a higher wholeness, a grand unity or community of beings. If mind is the intelligence informing and governing its internal life, then HEART names the intelligence that resonates with and reaches out to others.
The tree is not merely a passive component in this integral wholeness, however. By contributing its own gifts to the greater whole, it actively serves to create and sustain the community in which it belongs. In concert with all the others, it generates a synergy of holistic consciousness, a communal SPIRIT that is more than the mere sum of the parts. The back-and-forth of relationship energizes their bonds, lifting partners into higher and higher registers of mutual engagement (1+1=3), approaching an ever more perfect union where All is One.
That tree outside your window can now be appreciated for the astonishing miracle it is: grounded in Being, centered in itself, connected to others, and in harmony with it All.
This is the way it’s meant to be. This is The Way.