We can learn a lot from studying the trees. During her recapitulation, Taisha Abelar, a cohort of Carlos Castaneda’s, lived for a time in a tree. She’d never climbed a tree in her life when she began but by the time six months had passed she’d recapitulated through many dark nights in the tree house she slept in. Over that time she had absorbed so much of tree life that she could communicate with trees directly. She learned to be silent enough to sense their needs, to know their pain, and to communicate with them through feeling. But she also found herself freed of her traumatic past.
“As I was seated on a sturdy limb with my back resting on the tree trunk, my recapitulation took on an altogether different mood,” she writes in The Sorcerers’ Crossing. “I could remember the minutest details of my life experiences without fear of any coarse emotional involvement. I could laugh my head off at things that at one time had been deep traumas for me. I found my obsessions no longer capable of evoking self-pity. I saw everything from a different perspective, not as the urbanite I had always been, but as the carefree and abandoned tree dweller that I had become.”
During the recent early winter storm, I thought a lot about the trees. As I watched them bear the brunt of the snow and the wind, I saw the parallel between learning to become like a tree, withstanding the beauty and fury of nature, and doing a recapitulation.
Trees are rooted, unable to move from their designated spots. Forced to withstand constant exposure they must be strong enough to survive yet weak enough to bend in the breeze. From the heights of the highest branches we can gain a new perspective on life and the world around us. Offering us the opportunity to gain new insights and clarity, they also offer us deep grounding. The deeper the root system, the better the connection to the life force of Mother Earth.
Trees are silent beings, observers of life, pensive and heavy, yet they jostle and sway, tossing lightly and gaily in the wind. They lose branches in storms. They topple over when their time is done and return to the earth from which they once sprang. They know the course of their lives, having lived them many times. Upon their demise, springing up again from their deepest roots or previously dropped seeds, they are ready to take on life anew. Most meaningful to us is that they give us the oxygen we need in order to breathe and live on this planet, thus their lives are more than meaningful, for they support all human life.
We too must learn to become like the trees as we recapitulate. We must learn how to stand our ground, our roots firmly sunk in the nurturing earth while at the same time we withstand the onslaughts of the past. Steady and balanced in two worlds—roots in the earth and branches reaching for the heavens—we too are capable of withstanding the onslaughts of the seasons of our lives. Whether we recapitulate a fine memory, a delightful memory, or a horrific memory too distasteful to speak of, we can learn from the trees how to handle what comes to greet us in recapitulation.
During the recent storm, I noticed the trees in my yard standing silently, accepting the unusually early snowstorm. I saw them bear the weight of the unexpected snow cover. I saw them bowing down under the weight of the heavy attack from outside, their leaves unsuspecting collaborators. I saw them bear the tension, until it was time to let go because they could no longer hold back what had been imposed on them. I heard the breaking of limbs, leafy branches that had no recourse but to snap.
I saw all of this and said to myself: This is like recapitulation. During recapitulation we are not in control, yet we strive to control in the old ways that worked for us. But during recapitulation we are often confronted with things that we just cannot control, things that come at us out of nowhere like this autumn winter. We too have no recourse then but to snap beneath the weight of the onslaught and allow what falls from us to be strewn at our feet. We too, like the trees, can look down and see our branches of self—parts of ourselves that we thought we needed to hold onto—and realize that they now lie at our feet and yet we still stand.
During the storm cleanup we can look back and wonder: Did we really need to hold onto those parts we once thought so dear? Without them we feel lighter, freer, our branches now able to lift higher than before. Freed of the burden of trauma, of the accumulation of old ideas, misconceptions, and old perceptions of the self, we are like the trees, able to experience ourselves in a new way, just as Taisha once did. No longer attached to the past in the same way we find that, having recapitulated, we are totally different beings.
There are sturdy and tall trees, oaks and maples, and yet there are supple and easily swayed trees that survive just as long, that have the ability to spring back to life no matter what occurs. In recapitulation, is it better to be so strong that our branches continually snap and break off until we are limbless? Or is it better to sway in the breeze of our recapitulation, knowing that we are firmly rooted, connected to the life force of all things, certain that new life awaits? At some point in our recapitulations we must all consider how we are going to proceed on our life’s journey. What kind of tree are we going to be?
Indeed we can and should study the trees. In their silence alone they offer so much for our consideration. Just contemplating the fact that we could not survive on this planet without them may be enough of a start. I hold trees in the highest regard and I am thankful for them. With great respect, at each breath I take, I am humbled to share the planet with them.