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Trees, People, & Seeing Inside

As you may know, one essential when installing a live Christmas tree is making a fresh cut off the bottom of the trunk so the tree can better drink water. One year I ended up with a rather large bit of trunk off the bottom when someone who didn’t know anything about Christmas trees decided to take a bit too much off. The tree was beautiful and I kept the stump. It was one of the first bits of wood I kept - even before I started working with wood and making talking sticks. Years later, right around the time I was creating Space Bangkok, I started working on it and I couldn’t help admiring its striking rings, so clear and distinct. And the image of what is now the Space Bangkok logo flashed into my mind. Wood growth rings are interesting repositories of information that can actually be read by those literate in their language. On a basic level, where the rings appear far apart, the tree grew a lot that year, meaning there was plentiful rain and nutrients and optimum growing conditions. Rings that are closer together indicate years where the tree didn’t grow very much. Maybe there was drought, or flooding, or blight. Or maybe the temperature was wrong. Whatever the reasons, the tree struggled to grow and thrive. And do you know the interesting thing about the nature of the wood from those years? It’s harder, denser. The struggle to grow makes the wood strong. A fellow wood addict who makes and sells wooden kitchen utensils told me he prefers this kind of wood as it is more resilient.

At a retreat a few months ago, we started the day with a bit of observation and free writing. The focus of our attention was a piece of wood - a Ponderosa pine root that had been slashed through by lightning, now polished and turned upside down. A showpiece.

(Photo credit: Yago Abeledo)

After circling the piece and considering it from several angles, I wrote this: “How do we find beauty in the places we’ve been the most damaged? And what does beauty mean? This piece was utterly burnt and split. Now it does nothing but announce beauty. Like wrinkles on a weathered face. If you see them, notice, and appreciate their beauty, you can slowly, gradually earn access to what’s behind them. And you will see an even deeper wisdom, shining beauty into an unseen abyss. If you don’t, though, then the profoundness that awaits deep within will be lost on you - transformed back into ugly scars. Some see it. Some don’t. There are really two parts, at least. The once destroyed must stand in full ownership of that destruction and what has been wrought out of it, emanating brilliance from inside. Compelling admiration. The viewer, in turn, must see, must notice, must embrace the essence of the journey to this place, must engage and go deeper, and not immediately turn away. But rather lean in. Get closer. Go deeper. Touch, feel, listen, and know. And stand alongside, strengthened and emboldened to own their own destruction and scars and wounds and darkness. Own it, and transform it. Showing hints to the world and the fullness of brilliance to those engaged enough to walk round and gaze deep.”

I sometimes get into conversations about how to relate to many different kinds of people from different backgrounds with different struggles. For me, it’s simple, really. I look past all of that to what’s inside, to the talents and qualities of the person. And that changes everything. Often the most beautiful trees are gnarled and growing in strange directions. It’s the same with people, if only we could see it.

Ram Dass echos this when he writes:

“When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying 'You’re too this, or I’m too this.' That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

And so the Space Bangkok logo is based on the compelling growth rings of a piece of a tree that prompt me to consider what a cross section of myself would show. What do my growth rings look like? What are their hues? What insights do they reveal about the nature of who I am? How do they map the years I flourished and those I struggled? Am I stronger, more useful, and more resilient from the struggles? And how can I consider others in this way? I see their outside bark, marks, and scars that hide and protect the history of their growth rings. How do I look deeper, accepting their story, and my own?

Wrinkles are the door. Tragedy transformed, brilliant. Notice. Then, lean in.

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