One never knows whom one will meet on a retreat. I met a Willow Tree. Recently, I attended a retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery here in Middleton led by Anne Hillman who wrote the book Awakening the Energies of Love, Discovering Fire for the Second Time, a book that has become a touchstone in my life. What a privilege to have three days for intentional reflection. I loved meeting Anne and the other participants on the retreat, but who knew I would make a new friend and develop a new relationship? Who knew I would open to a new spiritual guide, a new teacher?
I met a Willow Tree.
At Sweetwater Farm a willow tree was the resident sage in the wetland on our land, and such a presence that tree was. The last tree to lose its leaves as the season moved from fall to winter. The most distinctive citrus yellow green in the springtime, standing out from all other greens. The welcome greetings of branches swaying in the breeze and sweeping the earth gently, lightly. And often, quite often, a resting place for a red-tail hawk. I can feel my heart lift as I recall the beauty of that sight.
Perhaps this willow tree is a distant relative of the one I loved at Sweetwater Farm. My intention is to get to know this tree better, but initially, I kept my distance, preferring to observe and to listen before introducing myself. The days of the retreat were the epitome of June days: warm, but not too; the sun hiding occasionally behind playful clouds, and a breeze dancing through prairie grasses and trees dressed for summer days. This willow tree (Do I dare call it "my" willow tree?) swayed, swirled, swooped, swept, sashayed--did everything but swagger down the trail closer to the pond. I sat on a deck nearby and spent time with my new acquaintance.
I was captivated by one branch that arched over open space, forming a portal, a passageway, a natural arbor, a threshold. Lately, I have realized that these years in Madison are transition years for me -- preparation years for the next stage of life. I am making myself ready. For exactly what, I am not sure, but it is time to prepare my body, mind, and spirit. I am on a threshold, but this is not yet the time to walk through, to cross over, to look back at where I have just been. Being on this retreat and spending time with the willow tree, I realize, however, now is the time to live with deeper attention, to move from thought to awareness, to listen to my deepest yearnings, to be present.
Later during the retreat Anne led us in T'ai Chi, and I became the willow tree: grounded and yet supple and flexible, lifting my arms to the sky and letting them softly drift back to my side. I danced as the willow tree dances. The willow tree has more to teach me, and I will return to its sacred space. Someday I will accept its invitation to cross the threshold and stroll underneath its supple branches, and to feel the touch of its feathery leaves.
Matthew Fox says, "Everything is a word of God."
Even willow trees.
Selected Resources from my Bookshelves
Sacred Trees, Spirituality, Wisdom and Well-Being by Nathaniel Altman
The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon