Lessons from the Trees

Kathleen Prasad English 5 Comments


Each year, Frans leads a Reiki retreat at the beautiful Sequoia Retreat Center in northern California. Part of our days are spent in the conference room with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the beautiful redwood trees, but every day we also spend some time doing Reiki exercises outdoors in nature.

At last year’s retreat I began to realize that the trees were very conducive to the inner spiritual work we were doing, however it was at this year’s retreat that I realized the trees were not only supporting us with their presence, but also actually teaching us with their energy.

Hope, 2011

Last October, in 2011, when I participated in the retreat, I was only a couple of months out of a major surgery, still feeling quite weak, suffering from some pain, and not having fully regained my mobility. During one of the meditative exercises, we had to choose a tree to connect with. The tree I worked with was very unusual. The base of the tree was wide and open, blackened by the scars of some past fire. Out of the top of this scarred base grew a whole family of new beautiful strong trees, all green and brown, vibrant and tall. I stood at the base of the tree, in its burned out shell, and offered Reiki.

Over time, as I stood with the tree, my eyes slowly took in the blackened lines and curls of bark, my nose inhaled the old smell of smoke, my fingers touched the rough surfaces. I kept my eyes open but holding a soft gaze, and slowly I began to be able to see deeper than the burned, scarred surface of the bark, to see the lines and curves of the trunk of the tree, which were so beautiful. I could feel my attention shifting to the energy above me, the new growth that felt so light and bright. I turned my eyes skyward and beheld the cinnamon colored bark and bright green needles that reached into the heavens. My nose found the fresh scent of the living trees above me. My hands longed to reach out and touch them, but they were much too high for me to reach.

Then Frans asked us to find the sound of our tree, if we could, and so I sat for some time in silence, not sure if I could do such a thing. After several moments, a light, soft and beautiful tone arose within me. As I quietly sounded the tone into the tree, I could feel the vibration of my sound giving voice to the strength of the tree, its fortitude, and also the beauty of such strength. Yes even the scars were beautiful weren’t they? After all they made the tree what it was, told its unique story, documented its amazing recovery.

When it was time to finish, and I touched the tree, thanking it for a moment for being with me in this quiet space, and as I did so, I suddenly had a very strange feeling. I felt that the tree was mirroring me, or perhaps I was mirroring the tree. I looked at the tree and thought, yes I am just like you. Burned, scarred and broken, but…Yes, there is hope. I can feel with each passing day I grow stronger and healthier. New life and healing will come from the old. And soon it will be only a memory, the difficulties of the past. Yes, my scars will always be there, a part of my story, but they are not what define me. There is more to come…Soon all my energy will rise above and beyond all that has happened, and I will be strong again.

All of these realizations happened instantaneously, and I found myself quite unexpectedly in tears, standing next to my tree. But for the first time in a long time, these were not tears of sorrow for what I had gone through, but rather, tears of hope for a future of strength and health. My heart swelled with gratitude for the tree, for just standing there through the years, only growing stronger and taller with each passing day—for it was a symbol of what I also could do.

Unexpected Teacher—2012

This past October 2012, we again joined Frans at the Sequoia Retreat Center for another four days of meditation and spiritual contemplation. I felt like a different person this time, all healed and strong after my ordeal in 2011. I felt all my new growth from the past year, and was filled with gratitude to be healthy. Again during one of the days, we walked to the Sequoia grove and chose a tree to work with. This time, Frans gave us a specific energetic visualization to do as we stood with our tree. I stood with my tree, hands on the trunk, visualizing the energy flow. After a few moments, I thought to myself, “I think I need to take a step back, I feel like I’m being pushy with this tree.” So I took a step backwards and stood with my hands near my sides a few feet from the tree, feeling a strong connection to the earth inside of myself. At that moment I simply invited the tree to connect with me, if it wanted to. I stood for a long time gazing at the patterns on the trunk, taking in the tree’s scent, allowing my gaze to move up the trunk to the leaves and the sky high above.

I felt my thoughts slow and my inner quiet taking over. After several minutes a strange thought came into my mind, “Well just because it’s a tree, doesn’t mean that it can’t come forward to connect for healing. Trees can choose too, just like animals or people.” What a strange thought to have at that moment! Suddenly I felt a little tickle on my right ankle. I looked down and noticed there was a tiny, baby sequoia, growing out of the base of this giant one. It was brand new, only about one foot tall. As I stood there, unexpectedly contemplating the free will of trees, one of its branches had reached out gently and scratched me on the ankle. I felt my mouth widen into a big smile as I squatted down and gently traced my hands over the tiny branches and spindly trunk of the baby tree. I whispered to the baby, “I guess it’s okay to touch you isn’t it, since you touched me first this time.”

This experience really had me thinking. Countless times I have sat in a Reiki treatment, offering Reiki to an animal from a distance, and countless times I have watched the animal choose to come forward and make physical contact with me—even fearful animals. To just hold the space and invite, that is the key—then the animals seem to always find the courage to come forward and connect. How funny that I didn’t think to approach the tree with the same kind of respect—as if just because it was a tree anchored to the ground that it didn’t have a choice in it’s own healing. That little baby tree helped me to remember that every living thing can be our teacher, if we only open ourselves to that possibility and listen carefully. Each living thing is a unique being in charge of its own journey. And even more than that, this little tree made me realize that not only people and animals, but also trees and other living beings are capable of choosing to share, connect and teach the world around them. 

Having had these two energetic healing experiences with the Sequoias has given me a new sense of gratitude for and respect of trees on this planet. They are amazing teachers. Thinking of them and their existence brought the 5 Reiki Precepts to mind. 

For today only, do not anger: Sequoias don’t hold grudges about the things that humans have done to them in our short history on this earth.

Do not worry: They don’t fear what the future might hold. They stand with courage and fortitude no matter what happens to them in their long life span.

Be humble: They don’t push themselves on others; they are listeners and observers of their world, surrendering to and allowing life energy to flow through them.

Be honest: They are honestly and without apology just trees; they don’t try to be anything else. They simply stand and grow, fully living in the present moment, watching the seasons and years pass.

Show compassion: They give so much to the world around them, so freely and without expectation, even the air that we breathe. And they understand that no one stands alone–they reach out to each other, entangling their roots to support each other and increase their stability. 

And it makes me think, if only we could be more like trees, I think we would live a life much more in balance. Maybe it would be easier for us to make it through the hard times in life. Well, maybe we can start by taking a walk in the woods and standing still and quiet with a tree; maybe we could, just for a moment, try being just like a tree. Then simply invite it to connect with you; you never know what might happen, but I have a feeling you might learn something new! 

By the way, the next Sequoia retreat is in October 2013, and I hope you can join us. The trees are waiting!

Comments 5

  1. Avatar of Frans Stiene
  2. Avatar of Denyce Peyton


    Thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences and revelations at the Sequoia retreat. Very inspirational!


  3. Avatar of Elly

    Kathleen, this is beautiful. I’m so glad you’ve been able to heal. The world needs you! As it needs the sequoias and all the other trees, birds, plants and animals that share our earthly paradise with us. They are our truest teachers, content to simply be what they are, gracious enough to share the world with us. Gassho, gassho!

  4. Avatar of Dympna

    Kathleen the following goes very well with what you just shared with us:

    Advice From A Tree
    Stand Tall & Proud
    Sink your roots into the earth
    Be content with your natural beauty
    Go out on a limb
    Drink plenty of water
    Remember your roots
    Enjoy the view.

  5. Avatar of Susan Andrews

    Beautiful, Kathleen!  I so appreciate that you shared these stories with us.  It isn’t easy going through an illness.  Patience is a valued treasure as we make our way along the path of healing.  Your ability to capture this experience in words is a gift for all of us.  Thank you!
    I recently came across an article, also about trees, from St. Catherine of Sienna.  This is her spiritual experience of trees that I read in Richard Rohr’s daily meditations:
    St. Catherine of Siena in her Dialogues pictures the spiritual life as a large tree:
    The trunk of the tree is love.
    The core of the tree, that middle part that must be alive for the rest of the tree to be alive, is patience.
    The roots of the tree are self-knowledge.
    The many branches, reaching out into the air, are discernment.
    In other words, says Catherine, love does not happen without patience, self-knowledge, and discernment.

    I have always loved tress.  As a child I remember the winter trees at dusk as the sky turned pink and dark blue and they were silhouetted black against the darkening landscape.  It was a magical moment in the day for me as I was being called back from playing outside in the cold and heading home to the warmth.  Thanks for reigniting that memory.

    Thanks to Dympna, too for the advice from the tree – sweet!


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