Monday, June 15, 2009

Standing People

I found a book at the library about an ancient indigenous religious tradition of Japan called Shinto. I know nothing of it, so I decided to read a little.

One of the foundation principles of the tradition is the importance of the natural world. Shinto leaders have been at the forefront of the movement to stop deforestation in Japan, and then, to reforest. Because of this, Japan ranks as the third most successful reforested nation. The land around Shinto shrines is covered in trees, a symbol of the importance the Shinto tradition places on them.

But what caught my attention was not just that Shintoism teaches the importance of a healthy ecosystem, but that it is believed that you can actually contact Kami, what we would probably refer to as the energy of God, through trees. I read the sentence over and over because I finally had found in words what I have felt for so long.

Is this why when I see an old, thick trunk, I am drawn to place my hand on it, almost as if I can absorb the wisdom this tree must have gained over hundreds of years?

Why I can almost feel the consciousness of the tree? Why it hurts in my chest when an old tree is cut down or dies from disease?

The Native Americans also had this reverence for trees. In many Native American dialects the word for tree can be translated as "standing person". I find this to be so fitting.

Because when the wind blows, and the branches creak above me, and the leaves rustle, I do feel as if I am listening to an ancient, sacred conversation between energies I cannot even begin to truly understand.

Because of this, at least one tribe that I know of would not use a living part of a tree. They harvested the dead parts for their wooden items.

And so I have to think that if two different indigenous peoples across the world, whose cultures were saturated with spiritual practices, have come to the same conclusion, that trees are have some sort of consciousness and sacredness unique to them within the natural world, that perhaps they are right.

But mostly I think this because I have felt it in the depths of my own being, felt beyond words that our spiritual selves can be known more fully in the presence of those which have known the elements, breathed the air and drank the water of this earth for centuries, perhaps even millenia.
The Standing People.

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