By Arthur W. Davis When I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing about speaking with trees, I thought: “What a bunch of New Age hoo-hah.” The story did, however, have nice insights about how the leaf is not only a child, but also a parent, nourishing the tree. Over the next few months, I thought about the monk’s insights and his way of being. This particular practice seemed silly, but it also seemed like a part of this path of peace.
One day I went to a picnic that, unknown to me, was cancelled. I had brought food and a book so I had a nice time eating and then reading with a gentle breeze and many tall trees. I hiked back through the woods. These thoughts about learning, communicating, and meditating with the world around me had steeped for several months, and it seemed like the right time. As I approached a small stream, I stopped and asked it to speak to me. The experience was calming and “spoke to” the Buddhist worldview in a way that I hadn’t quite experienced before. A week or so later, I sat in our back yard and asked the sky, the grass, and the earth to speak.
One could call it mysticism. Or it might be simply a way to get outside of our thought processes to observe the world directly. Maybe that’s what mysticism is. We could also take all that away and call it a reification of learned theory, but somehow that’s less satisfying, and it doesn’t speak to the openness to the world, the discoveries, and the sense of contact that appears. Of course, “New Age hoo-hah” would be fine too. Whatever we want to call it, it’s been useful, and it’s been another step towards happiness and peace.
I stopped and asked a stream to speak to me. It said, “I am impermanence. I contain death and destruction, birth and nourishment. Countless creatures are being born and dying inside of me. Right now creatures are eating and being eaten. Creatures are defecating, and this act produces nutrients for others. From microscopic organisms to ducks and birds, all is within me.
“But I am not a container for these actions. I am not static. I am a process. The water flows. The path changes. The ‘stream’ is an illusion.
“You are a part of the same process as me, and you are an illusion too. You are a part of birth and death and change. You are connected.”
I asked the grass to speak to me. It said, “ I am impermanence. I am dying and living—both at the same time. As I die, I give birth to myself and to others. And so do you.”
I asked the sky to speak to me. It said, “I am water, rain, and air. I am nourishment and destruction, air to breathe and cold winds that kill. I filter the rays of the sun to protect and deprive. I provide creation and destruction in the cycle. And you do too.”
The Grass Speaks Again
“I am friends with your friend the sky. You could say that we have mutual acquaintances. The air enters and leaves me. The sun and rain nourish and kill me.
“I am friends with the earth too. She holds moisture from the rain and provides me with a base and nutrients. She shelters my animals until they fly away—to the sky—or die here among friends.
“The sky, the stream, the grass, the earth, and you. We are all one. We are all friends.”