Today I’m in Sarasota, Florida visiting my parents. Mom was going to a “ladies’ luncheon” today, so Dad and I were on our own. We went to the Ringling Museum of Art here in Sarasota, where we saw a number of very large and sort of bombastic display paintings. Dad points out that John Ringling was a showman, and so a lot of the paintings he collected for his art museum here were show pieces — elaborate paintings, huge gilt frames, and so on. It’s an interesting collection — hardly the finest art or the most famous names, but a useful reminder of the power of image.
Afterwards, walking through the gardens to the gatehouse, we passed the so-called Dwarf Garden. Somewhere, someone in the Ringling family wound up collecting sculptures of dwarves. There are probably fifteen or twenty dwarf sculptures hidden in this small, round garden next to the gatehouse, which is overshadowed by the branches and root systems of an enormous banyan tree.
I spent maybe fifteen minutes under the banyan, at first looking at the sculptures, but more and more time I spent looking and feeling the banyan tree. I’d done some art-breathing in the museum, just standing in front of pictures for long counts of breath, sixty or seventy breaths in and out, as chi practitioners sometimes do, and I was immensely aware of my surroundings. The dwarf statues held my interest less and less.
And then, gradually, I became aware that the banyan tree was enormously aware of me. It was consciously cycling chi, just as I was. I don’t know how it was doing this — as it did so, I thought about pollen in the air, about invisible roots extending into the ’empty space’ around the banyan, about mysterious, tentacled microscopic organisms crawling all over me… and eventually, after running through the gamut of reactions, I decided I didn’t care. The tree was curious, I was curious, neither of us appeared hostile to the other… we got past my original reaction, and I gave a slight half-bow to this otherworldly being.
And then it (she?) spoke to me. Not in words… that would be silly. Instead, she invited me to view her branches, her root system, her worldview. Rooted in one place and surrounded by a potentially hostile environment with thousands of predatory insects, moulds, fungi and animals, her solution to living in this amazing world is to equip herself with as many roots and branches as possible. Her support system is a living network, above and below ground, and it extends into the air around itself, into the ground, and into the water. SInce she can manipulate chi as well, I sense that this three-fold elemental force also extends into the fourth and fifth elements as well, and she draws all sorts of nourishment from all sorts of places.
I realize this is a bizarre story to tell on my blog, which is usually about teaching and rarely so esoteric or “woo-woo” as this.
But the Banyan Tree was telling me, “this is what you need to do. You need to live like this: networked, with multiple avenues of support, multiple pathways of nourishment, multiple routes of defense, multiple alliances with beings nearby and far away. Multiple sources of income, multiple sources of strength, multiple sources of energy and resources and community.”
Deborah in her Magical Transformation project, which I’ve signed up to do (however reluctantly), asked this week that we think about something that we want to do but that we’re aware that we don’t wanna do. I think this is a big one for me. The Banyan Tree is telling me that it’s time to make my network work for me, instead of being an appendage that I don’t really think about that much. My dad does this much better than me, and I’ve watched him for years without really understanding it.
But the essence of it is the same as the Banyan’s strategy. Put down roots in multiple places. Make connections. Help different parts of the network talk to each other and connect with each other. Bring disparate parts of the network come together. Nourish everyone and everything with conversation. Build a community of alliances and friendships and acquaintances.
So I’m making this a goal for 2012: I’m going to be more of a banyan tree trunk, relaying messages and bringing nutrition along the network of people with whom I communicate. I’m going to bring people together with e-mail, and in person. I’m going to provide people with the intellectual and social resources, and the social connections, to get stuff done.
What are you going to do to be a Banyan Tree this year?