Mother Nature is life’s ultimate teacher, says Nicole Law.
I delved into Wendell Berry’s poem A Vision in preparation for a podcast episode I was recording on poetry and the spiritual life and was moved by a specific verse:
“If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here…”
Many of us desire to attain knowledge rather than wisdom. Where knowledge can be accumulated through access to various sources, from books to the internet, wisdom instead is largely gleaned from lived experience.
There is only so much we can learn from attending another webinar or online course, in which there are specific objectives to be achieved.
Wisdom goes beyond knowledge and enables us to discern inner qualities and insights. Knowledge alone will not suffice to allow us to live meaningful lives. We need wisdom, the capacity to make due use of the knowledge we have, to truly survive, or as I like to call it, thrive.
Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. Wisdom is putting these facts together to discover a pattern and purpose, to make sense of them.
Much of this wisdom is gained from living within the complexities and grey areas of daily life and being able to discern what is right in the specific circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Where modern man (and woman!) seeks to rush and hurtle forwards, we are invited instead by the poet to ‘stand like slow-growing trees’.
If we were to stand in a forest right now, we would be in awe at the span of the canopy above. The trees that have been growing for thousands of years have grown to such an awesome height through steady incremental growth. Their roots have grown deep into the ground, just as our deep roots allow us to continue to stand tall in the face of adversity.
These roots also include our family and people’s traditions. Wisdom always includes recognising the deep roots which precede us and from which we have grown.
I have always marvelled at the pace at which nature moves and shifts. The sun rises and sets at the same time every day and the flowers turn towards it following a slow but steady rhythm.
The forest itself is a mysterious place …. How often have we had the experience of getting lost on an unmarked trail while out for a walk in the woods. It can be disorienting to be unable to discern how far we have walked when we are surrounded on all sides by majestic trees.
As we venture deeper, we come across the dense undergrowth, piles of dead leaves which crackle underfoot. Though seemingly dead and dried, these leaves form the rich soil from which the living trees around us draw their nutrients.
What appears to be ruined – the death and descent of leaves to the undergrowth – acts as a force of renewal and enrichment to the soil.
Think of the painful experiences which have shaped your beliefs and behaviours. They have left an indelible mark on your psyche – perhaps those moments of disillusionment, rejection or confusion have enriched your lived experience.
Without pain, we cannot feel joy in its full measure.
The undergrowth of our lives serves as the wellspring from which we find renewal and regeneration.
As we step away from the undergrowth, we also realise that the dead leaves, beyond symbolising the potential for renewal, point towards the steady passage of seasons in our lives.
We move through those seasons aware of change and also of the cyclical patterns that mark various important stages of life. Change is uncomfortable and transitioning into new seasons may fill us with fear and anxiety. Yet instead of fearing the arrival of the new season we find ourselves in, maybe the invitation is to welcome it instead.
Learning to accept the arrival of new points of growth in our lives may mean letting our previous selves die away. We are constantly remaking ourselves and growing in new ways. To welcome the newness that lies ahead involves outgrowing the boots which have helped us to walk to where we are right now.
To welcome the newness involves opening our palms to receive the rain and to let it percolate slowly into the soil of our hearts and minds. To welcome the newness involves the clarity to perceive the change not as a threat to our current ways of being but an opportunity to be renewed and enriched by new experiences.
But all this needs time and patience, the ability to stand firm and be rooted like trees, not constantly rushing around. Growth needs some stability, while also straining upwards to the sky.
May we continue to walk gracefully into the new seasons we find ourselves in and grow in the wisdom to survive – or rather, thrive – like slow-growing trees.
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