I had to take a break from being with Madonna to travel to the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona where we debuted a series of TreeStory shorts in a screening. This was the first time any of the TreeStory films had shown on the big screen. For the trip I took a small branchlet I found on the ground beneath Madonna as a wand of grounding and protection.
Sagara and Briget, two of the staff of the festival, brought in a small purple smoke bush tree to the theater and decorated it as a shrine to the Tree of Life. More on this later…
I landed in Phoenix at 10am to 116 degrees and it was only June 3. I am afraid this may be the new normal for the southwest U.S. We will only be able to keep our collective heads down about global warming for a short time longer now. It is upon us and growing. Reducing our consumptive patterns and planting trees may be our best hope. Politicians clearly are impotent to deal with it (and anything else). My own focus during this time is to try and get people to connect with trees daily and through that simple act feel peace and imagination flow through them. If we take the time to connect with nature and use our imaginations we may find a way through.
The Illuminate Film Festival is one of my favorites. It is a small festival that centers on films that promote awareness, mindfulness and compassion. We were here two years before with Song of the New Earth.
I was initially disappointed a bit as I was set up at a hotel 30 minutes from town. I became further dismayed when I saw the three miles of dirt road we were traveling along to get there. But when I went through the gates of the place, I laughed. It was named Grace Grove and was a beautiful Eden-like place along Oak Creek shaded by the white trunks and spring leaves of Arizona Sycamore trees.
So began my daily ritual of skinny dipping in the creek first thing in the morning, followed by my Tree Breathing ritual and going to films all day.
Sunday I went in early for my screening. I was rather keyed up because I was showing not only TreeStory shorts but the latest version of another documentary Catching Fire about inventor Peter Scott and his work to save trees and lives in Africa with the invention of the most efficient cook stove for the developing world. 4 million people, mostly women and children, die every year from indoor smoke as a result of using inefficient stoves. As well, millions of trees are cut down for charcoal. Peter has set out to change that.
The other reason I was keyed up was that the organizers of the festival asked me to do some sort of healing ceremony after the screenings! In desperation I came up with this idea to do a guided meditation to the Tree of Life. They thought that was a good idea, even if I had very little idea of what it would be.
Whenever I have a film on the big screen at a festival, a lot goes through my mind. First, worry that anyone will show up (no matter how many sold out and otherwise richly attended shows I've had over the years, I still worry about an empty seat theater...), but this recedes quickly as people file in and as another miniature worry creeps in - that the show will operate technically sound. To this worry I counsel with a one word advice: trust. Then I take my seat where I always do. I always sit in the back row, in the corner. Yes to see the screen, but more to see the audience. I love the silvery light from the screen that shimmers on foreheads or that crowns heads. I love the stillness, that moment when I sense that the audience as a whole is engaged. That they are taking the ride!
I watch for squirming or head turning, any sign that they tune out. There was none of that during these screenings. And I wait for the laughter. Humor is always a part of my shows. I've never made a documentary where laughter is not a part of the screening. When I hear the laughter come, there is such a tone of satisfaction that resonates through me.
And in the dark, I am able to experience the emotions that well up inside me. To see the result of years of work, and many, many, many moments of doubt, of not knowing the way to go, which way to turn, even to keep on with the project or not, suddenly to see it up on the screen and know audiences are taking the ride, envelops me with emotion. I cry silently during my own films.
I saw the response of TreeStory on the screen. Audience laughter, focus, engagement and applause. While the response was great, it was hard to deny the agitation in my heart about having to lead what was billed as a “shamanic journey” afterwards. But no time to back out now.
Most cultures have a Tree of Life or cosmic tree myth that unites the underworld, the human world and the heavenly world. The Norse had Yggdrasil or the “axis mundi” from which Odin hung upside down for nine days and plucked the runes from a pool below and gave them to the world. India has the cosmic tree, Asvatha. Genesis talks about the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. And the mystic Jewish tradition of Kabbalah talks about the tree of life as the path to climb to the divine from which to come back more embodied and more prepared for our work and presence here on earth. Mythologist Michael Meade talks about the Tree of Life as the “tree behind the tree” or the tree of unity we are trying to get to.
It was to this tree that I began the ceremony to lead 100 people. I started by introducing them to my Tree Breathing practice (see blog: Sex and Tree Breathing). After grounding and bringing in protection, I played some drum and rattle journey music and away we went.
Here is the journey:
Visualize and approach a tree in your life, a tree you know now or one from your childhood. Open your heart and wait for a welcome invitation from the tree. Approach it and touch it with your senses, touch its bark, smell it, see the sunlight shimmering on its leaves. Practice the six tree breaths with the tree.
Step back and offer a flower to the base of the tree. Where you place the flower, a portal opens into the ground under the roots of the tree. A portal with stone steps that you descend into the dark.
At the base of the stairs a luminous being meets you. This is your ally. Follow his or her light through the dark pathways that twist and turn underground. Without your light ally, you would be hopelessly lost. You realize you do not know the way back.
You emerge from an opening in a hillside into a landscape ablaze with the glory of spring. Green meadows, flowers, with bees, birds and animals that move about peacefully. Down below you is a meandering river lined with trees. Your ally leads you down to the river to a canoe and beckons you to step in and take your seat up front. Your ally sits in back and propels the canoe upstream. You look above at the blue sky, at the white billowy clouds and the leaves shimmering in the wind. You breathe the freshest air you’ve ever tasted. Around a bend in the river a magnificent distant mountain looms over the horizon. This is your mountain ally. Open your heart and send out a welcoming to it. It bestows upon you its medicine of patience, presence, strength and groundedness.
On the far bank of the river your ally pulls the canoe to shore. You get out and he beckons you to go forward to the edge of a meadow. On the far side of the meadow is a forest. From within that forest emerges an animal. It may be a land animal, one from the air or one from the water as the river curls about you. Watch as your power animal comes ever closer until it is standing before you. You breathe together and take in each other’s presence. You see in the animal’s eyes, a small globe image of yourself.
You follow your animal back across the meadow and into the forest. Soon it is so dark in there you would not know where to go if not for the presence of your power animal. You do not know the way back. You do not know the way forward. You cannot see the path but you trust the path you take. You trust the path before you.
You come to a clearing in the forest. In its center is a luminous tree. It may have the shape of the tree you left back in the other world, but this one glows as if suffused with its own inner light. You open your heart to it and wait for its welcoming. You approach slowly and place your hands on its glowing trunk and practice the six tree breaths. As you finish the last breath you look down and notice your body is glowing as the tree is.
You are able to enter the tree. Starting at its roots you ascend up the tree into its crown. You are aware that you can be in the crown only because your feet are still rooted strongly in the ground. You open your limbs wide and allow a prayer to emerge from you. A prayer of gratitude of what is. A prayer for your life. A prayer for your family your community, the world. A sense of profound peace and joy envelop your being. You hear these words: I AM YOUR OWN HEART.
You find yourself once again outside the tree with your hands against it. You slowly step back and see that your body is no longer luminous. You feel a sadness at this until you notice that inside you a luminous tree has appeared. Its roots begin below your belly, its trunk is in our heart and its crown rises into your head. You notice that this luminous tree stays with you as you head back.
The luminous tree inside you lights your path through the forest. Your light being ally is waiting by the canoe. You take a long glance back at the magic land you have been in and the canoe sets off downstream. Across the river you enter the hillside again and walk back through the dark chambers, noticing that your glowing ally is no longer with, yet you can still see clearly in the dark. The light is coming from the luminous tree inside you.
You ascend back up the stone stairs until you are standing before your tree again. The portal closes and you place your hands on your tree and practice six tree breaths. As you do this the luminous tree inside you glows, as it will now glow anytime you touch a tree in the world.
Tree Haiku - Day 27 Make films in your mind Reposing under a tree Applause from the leaves