The Great Oak
March 5, 2015
When we look reverently, into the inner heart of the natural world, we see God’s hand stretching out to us, giving to us, nourishing, inspiring, sustaining, calling us to our true Home in His joy. Divine Mother teaches us the art of giving and receiving, of joyful self-offering and grateful receiving, through Her many guises everywhere in Mother Nature.
Long before Ananda’s first community grew up in Northern California, a black oak tree was growing on the hilltop of what was to become the Expanding Light Retreat. The tree had been a three-year-old sapling in 1861, the year Lahiri Mahasaya met Babaji and asked him to make Kriya Yoga available to all sincere seekers, whatever their level of spiritual realization. By the time building began for the retreat center, the oak was a grizzled giant, towering over the landscape and, in the fitness of things, was the natural center from which the buildings and gardens radiated. Every care was taken to protect the old tree’s roots, to keep the mistletoe and dead wood trimmed back, to show respect in placement of surrounding landscapes, to create under the great canopy special spots for quiet gatherings and meditation.
Upper branches reaching up to the light, leaves giving out good cool air for we in the animal kingdom to breathe, the fine old tree gave living expression to Kriyananda’s words in his song, “Channels”: “Trees, standing firm, hold the secret to inner pow’r/Give us, when tested, strength to endure.” The tree’s vast canopy has shaded the central part of the Expanding Light, has given a feeling of protection, of safety, has provided a profound connection to the natural world, has nourished and ennobled the spirit of service flowing out from the retreat into the larger world.
In recent years we have become increasingly aware that the tree’s time with us was drawing to a close. The tips of the branches were dying back, indicating a similar withdrawal of energy underground in the root system. One day, we understood, the old tree would simply fall to the ground, brought down by wind and snow load in winter or, on a hot summer day, by the unsupportable weight of water rushing up into the canopy to cool the tree. Such a fall, so close to other trees and buildings, could do crushing damage.
And so we prepared ourselves to help in the transition. I think we all felt like children saying goodbye to an aged grandparent, perhaps somewhat as we did in our last personal interactions with Swamiji before he passed into moksha. Everywhere prayers were going up, to the spirit of the tree, to Divine Mother to bless and protect those involved in the felling. The Expanding Light staff gathered around the beloved tree friend in blessing and gratitude, and prayed that the resident deva remain with us once her tree home was gone, that she continue to channel her divine radiance onto the Expanding Light and all of Ananda from a new tree home.
The magnificent old tree came down gracefully and gently. There was a feeling of harmony, of flowing energy, of working together, serving together to the same end — even a feeling that the tree itself was working with us, guiding us, serving to the last. In what appeared to be death was new life — cords and cords of carefully harvested firewood, enough to keep many homes warm in future winters; what could not become firewood was ground into mulch and returned to the forest floor, to nourish the next generation of living plants; even the stump was beautifully levelled, to become a seat for meditation or simply a place to sit and rest, where one could look at the tree rings, and contemplate great reaches of time and one’s own so short moment in eternity, where one day would stand a statue of St. Francis, whom our Master called his patron saint, to act as a channel of blessing that we always remember that we are all part of Divine Mother’s natural world.
The great tree’s greatest gift to us is the gift of loving awareness — as we tune in more deeply to the spirit expressing through the tree, the spirit that continues on unabated, we understand more profoundly what it is to give of ourselves for the good of others, to shelter and shade, to provide a home for birds and squirrels, for creatures of many kinds, to resonate with the wisdom of ages – profound patience; long, long vision; a steady channeling of the Divine Love that informs the universe — to provide, even in death, warmth and comfort. “All that I am is Yours!” Swamiji writes in his song, “Through a Long and Lonely Night.” “All I’ve done is Yours! I’m Your own.”
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing