Lessons From A Tree: Living and Creating With Earth As Play

Am I done with choosing struggle? What would it be like to navigate the unknown with play? This is the story of how a tree showed me a way.

by Nihan Sevinc

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Tree and me. Photo by Kristina Belkina

November 2018. A glorious autumn day in the Pacific Northwest. I go out for a walk in my neighbourhood park.* People of all ages are outside today, playing. Sunny streak in rainy season, always an occasion to celebrate. Who knows when we might see it shine next.

I walk by the playground and the lake. I notice the geese might be staying for winter this year. Will it be a mild one then?

A few meters past the beach, there is a large pile of fallen leaves: dry, burgundy, and red, under the tree. They look so beautiful, I can’t help myself: jump right in and start dancing. My feet covered in crispy up to my shins. Rustle…rustle…crunch…crunch…crisp.

I like moving with Earth. I like dancing with trees, like no one is watching (and they usually aren’t). So I do that. Then I look behind notice a dramatic trail of leaves leading up to where I am. Did I just make that? What would it turn into, if I kept following my body’s movement?

As I sway and swirl, so do the leaves, forming circles around the tree. Oh the beauty! I have to figure out how I’m doing this, so I can recreate it again next week, I catch myself thinking. But I am not going down that rabbit hole. Now is about being in the moment and enjoying it. This is not a project. Nothing to figure out or plan for.

Inhale. The brisk autumn air is delightful to breathe. I am moving with ease. Harmoniously so with everything around me. The elements are moving through me, as me. I become the wind in a heartbeat. I am everywhere. Now I become the tree. My roots are going down and expanding into the planet. I sense the little heart beat of a squirrel on my branches. What a different way to be. I can get used to this. It could go on forever.

I move without knowing my next step. My feet have the lead now. I comply happily. This gives me a strange sense of ease and delight. Where are we going next? What will it create?

Every time I take a new step, several more possibilities appear ahead. My body knows to which one to pick. The one that feels like most ease…creating delicious curves on the ground. The tree and my body are one, flowing together peacefully. I am alive with joy. So is the tree.

“Hi Tree!”

“Hi body!”

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Red Maple. Circles in progress. What will happen next?

A soft breeze… New leaves fall down to fill in the gaps I have created. Is it the tree talking to me? Caressing my hair? Can I relax and receive the gifts?

Suddenly, the once familiar thoughts come marching in: How will I ever finish this, if the leaves keep falling? How will I make any progress?

My body stiffens. I stop dancing and get serious. You know, things could be way more efficient, if I had a rake or something with me.

This isn’t an entirely irrelevant idea, but…will I really go home and grab my garden tools? My heart sinks at the thought. One moment, I was just having fun, the next, I am filled with worry and expectations. Lightness disappears. Now everything feels like a task, just like my old life used to. My limbs are no longer limber, my chest constricts.

Shallow sigh… I don’t even know what I’m making here, but I need to complete it in the most efficient manner. I know I can’t pause for enjoyment until I get it across the finish line. But wait, who is doing the talking? And what finish line are we talking about?

I was just on a walk, having a little bit of play. Restless thoughts interrupt: How lazy and irresponsible of you. Quick, turn this into something. Something quantifiable in some way. Prove you can do it. Don’t let the stupid falling leaves stop you.

The good old recordings in my head. Designed to kill all fun, turn delight into a task, control every outcome. Oh boy, did I follow those recordings, did I create a life out of them! And what did that lead to? Illness? Struggle? Burnout? Then I left everything behind, started a quest to discover how else life can be lived. Two years have passed since. Do I still need to keep these recordings in my head?

I do not like them. In fact, I am tired of them. But I can see how they served me in the past. So I have choice now: follow the old ways that caused despair? Or go with the playful, unfolding mystery? My body lights up at the thought of the latter, but the pull of the familiar is strong.

A little help please. I ask Earth, what else is possible here? Show me.

Suddenly, I sense I am not alone. It is the tree, red maple. I lean against it and listen to it speak Tree:

“Hey, what if it didn’t have to be so hard? What if you allowed more ease? We are creating together here, you are not the only one. Will you allow me to lead you? Would it be fun?”

Relief washes over me from head to toe. Lightness is back. As it expands, so does my body. Movement flows. What could indeed happen, if I let go and be led by my body and Earth, just for this once? I am curious to find out.

I raise my head to spot a group of little kids running towards me with enthusiasm. “Maze!” they yell, jumping on the circles. Interesting. All I see is concentric circles, not even a labyrinth yet. Let alone a maze. Then again, if that’s what the kids are seeing, who am I question that? Let me open a little gate for them to enter “the maze.”

The kids bubble up with joy at the sight of my new adjustment: “Were you making this for us?” they ask with wonderment. “Yes,” I say, “that’s exactly what I was doing. I am so glad you have arrived.” Bright eyes and big smiles blink back at me.

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“It’s a maze!” the kids yell. So I build an entryway for them.

Of course with the kids dancing around, the circles don’t stay the same… I hesitate for a moment at the sight of this. I can sense the parents looking at me, waiting for a reaction. Exhale… My shoulders relax: who cares if the shape is no longer?

I go join the kids. Next thing you know, we are all rolling in leaves with laughter. The tree above and below us, watching with kind eyes: “What’s the point of creating an ephemeral piece, if not for the joy of it?” Whatever this is, we are all creating it together.

Shortly after the kids leave, a film student introduces herself and asks if she could photograph the artwork for an assingment. I tell her it’s not quite finished yet. She doesn’t mind. “Makes it more perfect in my eyes. I was looking for something I could capture in creation.”

I smile with delight and get out of the way.

For a moment, I go back to playing solo. Could I be radiating with joy? Is that why more people stop to say hi? Kids run the maze, grownups take photos. Some ask if they could give me a hug: “I have goosebumps” they say. “These circles are touching a place in me I didn’t know existed.”

“I hear you” is my reply. “We must have stumbled upon something wild and wonderful here.”

I know I have.

The landscape in me is expanding. What a sweet and ease-filled way to create. If only everything else in my life were this easy. In fact, why wouldn’t they be?

I have the taste of an essence I cannot forget. Can I take it home and infuse everything in my life with it, I wonder. My body is filled with joyful curiosity.

Could I create my life and living this way? What would that be like? What would it take? What would I be choosing in each moment every day?

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A similar creation the following week.

In the months and years to come, I begin to ask more of these questions to myself and the Earth. The old recordings start to melt away, new worlds of possibilities open up. Out of that day in the park, creation continues to flow. Mystery still unfolds. And I follow. Often barefoot with a tree nearby.

Like I once read, “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.” And joy and ease are ever expanding. What would it take for me to have and be more of that?

Inhale… Exhale… Peaceful sigh…

And a little poem I wrote:

Sometimes dancing is just dancing

sometimes it is a leap of faith

if you take it, look around and listen:

there may be a tree nearby

waiting to hold you:

“Is now the time?”

*Trout Lake Park, Vancouver BC, Unceded, ancestral, traditional lands of the the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Do like what you just read? What is it like for you to be in closer communion with nature? Write to me on Instagram or Facebook. Tell me about a time you had a similar sense of ease, joy and play. Can the world use more of these, too? What if we created it together?

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