Published in Common Ground, April 2015.
If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
There’s something special about trees, and we know it.
Even on a planet graced with an astounding array of intelligent and creative life, trees are standouts. If there were people who could do what trees do, they would be honored as ecological heroes, gifted healers, and selfless public servants—perhaps even awarded a Nobel prize.
Trees give so much—including food, oxygen, homes, and habitat. Every person and virtually every living thing relies on trees to survive, directly or indirectly. Trees play crucial roles in ecosystem health and balance—sequestering carbon (which reduces global warming), retaining soil, and contributing to air, water, and nutrient cycling.
Trees also help us heal. Simply being near them is safe and powerful natural medicine for mind and body. In Japan, “forest bathing” is an established public health program with an impressive array of documented benefits, including reduced stress and blood pressure, alleviation of depression, and enhanced immune system function, sleep, and vitality. Scientific studies confirm what we know intuitively—people are happier and healthier when they are near trees.
Our bond with trees goes far beyond what we can measure. Trees are a key link between humans and nature—a living, loving bridge between the human and more-than-human worlds. They touch us deeply and invite us into communion with something much greater than ourselves. In subtle yet profound ways, trees speak to us of peace, wholeness, and balance. They make excellent friends, teachers, and creative collaborators, and have inspired many great minds and spirits.
People have long recognized the remarkable and even sacred nature of trees. In diverse traditions, the tree of life is a sacred symbol, and trees are revered as wise and spiritual beings—a view that endures today, even in Hollywood movies like Pocahontas and Avatar. The Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under a Bodhi tree, and forest meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. In contemporary times, Thai monks wrap trees in saffron robes and ordain them to signify their sacredness and protect them from destruction.
Yet despite humans’ profound and loving bond with trees, our modern culture conditions us to take them for granted, tune them out, and act as though we are separate from them. Most of us habitually walk by trees without registering their presence—let alone pausing to appreciate them or connect more intimately. As a result, we miss out on many opportunities to bring more peace, joy, and healing into our lives and the world. Still, the bond between trees and humans runs deep and can be easily strengthened.
What if we brought a little more openness, gratitude, and love into our relationship with trees? What might that look like, and what might become possible—for us and for our planet? Here are a few ideas to explore.
Ten Ways to Deepen Your Connection with Trees
Notice. Start noticing how trees and their gifts are part of your daily life, and take a few moments to appreciate them when you can. A little awareness can go a long way.
Just be. Find a tree you feel drawn to and simply enjoy being with it. Try sitting and leaning back into the tree, standing with the front of your body and palms resting on the trunk, or whatever helps you feel more present. (It’s a good practice to ask permission before and give thanks after you connect.) When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the tree, your breath, or physical sensations.
Get acquainted. Walk around a tree, looking high and low, getting to know it from different vantage points, maybe even climbing it. Use all your senses—touch is especially powerful for bringing you into the moment and a more intimate connection. Let your intuition and curiosity guide you, and see how much you can learn through direct experience.
Branch out. Explore different ways of relating to trees. Follow your instincts and move like a curious animal. Climb up into a tree and find a perch where you can sit or lounge for a while. Dance or move creatively with a tree partner, or sing, write, or make art with a tree.
Rest. Lie down under a tree, ideally in a peaceful, beautiful place where you feel safe. Gently take in the sights and sounds with a soft focus, or allow your eyes to close. Notice that there is nothing you have to do. See how fully you can relax and release into the support of the earth.
Hug. Hugging is a natural way to express affection and a delicious way to connect with a tree. Long, lingering hugs are especially nourishing. Let’s embrace tree hugging as the simple, honorable practice that it is.
Make friends. Find a friendly-looking tree that you feel an affinity for and can visit regularly. Get to know it, using your intuition and some of these practices. Open your heart and mind to the tree, and see where that leads you.
Listen deeply. While connecting with a tree, cultivate a quiet and receptive state. Tune into the tree, listen deeply, and see what comes. Or guide the communication by holding an intention, asking a question, or speaking directly to the tree. (Although we’ve been taught to forget this, it’s natural and healthy for us to experience deep connection and communication with trees and other living beings.)
Bless. Honor a tree with a song, poem, prayer, or symbolic offering. You may want to create a simple ceremony of blessing or thanks-giving, or practice the Celtic tradition of tura, a walking prayer around a tree or sacred place. Find ways to bring trees into your spiritual practice (if you have one) or bring your practice to the trees.
Give thanks, give back. Offer thanks to trees as you walk by or receive gifts from them. Support our tree friends by planting and tending them, reducing wood and paper use, choosing recycled or greener options, scaling back consumption and energy use, and donating to groups that protect our precious planet. Linking small, personal actions with love for trees or broader values makes them more meaningful and rewarding.
We live in chaotic and challenging times, and it’s often not easy to stay grounded, balanced, and healthy. Connecting with trees can help us. And this is not just about what trees can do for us, or even what we can do for them. It’s about what we can do together—for ourselves, each other, and the future of all life.
View or download an attractively designed handout with these tips.