Beech grove in fall at Arnold Arboretum

Meditating with Trees

I’d been meaning to get to the Arboretum to enjoy the trees. To watch the leaves fall and swirl and drift their way down to the ground. And here it was, November, and somehow, though I’d left my job in June, I wasn’t finding the hours of free time I’d imagined. There were still so many tasks to accomplish, appointments to keep, new jobs to consider.

On election night I stayed up late with friends and slept late the next day. I slept past the time I usually meditate, which threw off my morning. It was a warm sunny day—likely one of the last of the season. I meant to get outside by 11:00, then noon, but wasted hours doing chores.

At 1:30, I finally made it out the door. The 281-acre Arnold Arboretum may be the best place in Boston to get a nourishing dose of nature. The park is a 20-minute drive from my house when there’s no traffic, over an hour when there is. My intention was to spend a lazy afternoon in the park, but I had to rush to get there so I could rush to get home so I wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. By the time I reached the Arboretum, my shadow was long on the ground.

I wanted to meditate under a tree. I also wanted to take a long walk. I decided to do both, which only increased my sense of being pressed for time. I set off for Peter’s Hill at the far end of the Arboretum, about a two-mile walk.

japanese maple with red leaves on groundThe foliage was just past peak. Lots of leaves had blown down in the recent rains. Red leaves formed a carpet beneath the Japanese maples. The oak leaves still clinging to branches were turning yellow and brown.

There were people about, but not too many:  some women in their 60s and 70s, a few dogs walkers with their dogs, a pair of mothers pushing baby carriages, and some retired guys wearing hats.

I huffed my way to the top of Peter’s Hill, paused for a moment at the top to enjoy the view of Boston’s skyline, then hurried down. By now the sun was almost behind the hill and the temperature was dropping. I pulled my jacket out of my knapsack and put it on. A gray rabbit scurried past, or was it a squirrel?

I didn’t waste time searching for the perfect tree to sit under, though I easily could have. Instead, I walked off the road toward a ledge still in the golden afternoon sun.

I sat down, leaned back against the ledge, and exhaled. Ah. Arrival. I closed my eyes for a long moment before opening them. Across from me was a grove of beech trees with leaves the tawny color of toasted marshmallows.

I checked the time on my phone and turned it off. I sat there, trying to just sit there, attempting to be, feeling a bit cold, feeling the dampness of the ground through my jeans.

Why is it so hard to be in the present moment? Trees seems to do it so well. What, exactly, is the difficulty?

The instructions are clear—variations on a theme: Just be. Be here now. Let it be.

Not doing. Not hurrying. Not wanting something more or less. Not hoping for something different.

I closed my eyes again. I heard the whoosh of cars. I remembered the turkeys I saw earlier. I remembered reading that wild turkeys were wiped out of Massachusetts in the 1850s, reintroduced in the 1970s, and now numbered in the thousands. I opened my eyes. I remembered that I was supposed to just be being. A young couple walked by.  I thought they thought I was weird for just sitting there. Some leaves fell. That’s what I’d been hoping to see. For a moment, I saw just that.

And then, though I wasn’t sure what time it was, the time for just being was over. I stood up, brushed off the dirt and leaves. I walked back to my car through the acres of remarkable trees.

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