by Heather Plett
Last week, I was walking a circular path through the jungle that I’ve become quite familiar with during my visits to Costa Rica. I walk it nearly every day on my friend Mary’s farm. This time, though, I was walking it with a visitor who’d never walked the path before.
There’s a massive tree that’s set back from the path, partially hidden by smaller trees with massive leaves. It would take at least four people to fully encircle the trunk. Each of several impressive limbs reach high into the sky and are the size of fully grown trees themselves. As is the way of jungle trees, the tree hosts a variety of other plant-life on its trunk and limbs, so it appears to be an entire ecosystem all on its own. It’s the kind of tree that might have served as inspiration for the giant tree in the movie Avatar.
It’s awe-inspiring to stand in front of it, and so I didn’t want the woman I was walking with to miss it. I paused for a moment, as we were approaching the tree, and said “check out this amazing tree”. She looked in the direction I was pointing, but didn’t glance up. Her lacklustre response left me wondering whether she’d actually seen the tree or just the large leaves of other trees in her direct line of sight. Or maybe large trees weren’t that interesting to her?
When we emerged from the jungle path, Mary and her dogs were heading toward us, so we decided to make another circuit around the path. This time, when we paused in front of the tree and Mary made a comment about the tree, it was immediately clear that the woman saw it. “Wow!” she said. “That tree is amazing!” And then she stepped back to take in the full view of the limbs reaching high into the sky. “I can’t believe how big it is! Look at those limbs!”
I chuckled and chose to simply let her enjoy the tree instead of telling her that I’d already pointed it out to her on the first pass.
A few days later, I shared that story on a Zoom call with a couple of friends when we were talking about our own personal development and willingness (or unwillingness) to witness whatever might be keeping us stuck. “Sometimes someone points out a behaviour or pattern they see in me, and I’m not ready to see it,” I said, after sharing the story. “I can walk right past the tree without seeing it. But then another time, I’m more ready to see the tree and suddenly it’s there, staring me in the face.”
There are a lot of things in our lives that, like the tree, remain elusive until we’re ready to see them. There might be wounds that you’re not ready to heal. There might be some social conditioning or a bias that you’re unable to see because your eyes haven’t yet been trained to witness it. There might be some choices you’re making that are causing harm to yourself, your community, or your environment. There might be relationship patterns you’re used to blaming on someone else. Or… going beyond yourself… there might be some unhealthy pattern that’s present in your community that you’ve been ignoring up until now.
It’s not just negative things that might be hidden at first pass. There might be creative solutions to old entrenched problems. There might be some skill that you didn’t know you were good at. Or there might be new perspectives on relationships that have grown stale.
Once you see the tree, though, you can’t un-see the tree. You can pretend it’s not there, but witnessing it means that you’re now committed to being in relationship with the tree. The tree is not going to go away. It’s going to be there every time you circle around to that spot on the path again.
Whenever you’re ready to see the tree is the right time to see it. And when you see it, there’s no point in beating yourself up over the length of time it has taken you to see it. Sometimes it just takes the time it takes. Sometimes there are self-protection mechanisms in place that keep you from witnessing what might cause too much pain. Sometimes there is trauma that gets in the way.
When you see it, pause for a moment and simply notice. Say “Oh look! There’s a tree!” There will be plenty of time to decide what to do about the tree – just start by witnessing it. Once you’re ready, look for the wisdom to help you know how to be in relationship with that tree.
Our upcoming course, Know Yourself, Free Yourself, is all about witnessing the trees you might not have seen before – like your social conditioning, biases, beliefs, family patterns, systemic entanglement, etc. Before you see them, though, we’ll give you practices that will support you in seeing whatever you’re ready to see. Join us! Starting March 6th.