TLDR: We can learn a lot from nature such as perseverance, non-resistance and patience. There are 3 life lessons I learnt from the trees outside my window.
I moved to my current home somewhere in Punggol, Singapore more than a decade ago. I live on the third floor and when I first moved here, there weren’t many trees along the walking paths. Always neat and efficient, the Singapore government agencies planted rows of baby trees in front of my living room and bedroom windows facing a two-lane road. Where I live used to be a kampong with farms and lots of wild trees, made way for urban development.
It took about five years (I think) for the baby trees outside my window to grow to the point where I could see the leaves and branches.
Some grew faster than the others. I was glad to get shade from these trees and at the same time, I also enjoyed views of olive-backed sunbirds feeding on nectar and insects on these trees in my living room. These trees made up for the other trees being taken down for redevelopment. When I first moved in, I remember cycling around my new estate discovering pathways amidst wild trees that lead to a quiet river. That river is now the Punggol Waterway park visited by many on weekends.
Back to the trees outside my windows. Days when I don’t feel like doing much, I find it enjoyable to just stare out of my windows to look at these lovely trees. They don’t only provide shade and views of nature. But I also learnt 3 life lessons from the trees outside my window.
1. Trees Provide Calm and Meditation
When I first moved in, I had episodes of anxiety attacks behind me. I was feeling calmer and have learnt to manage anxieties, even though I still had not gotten to the root of those fears then. One day while I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom feeling agitated from numerous thoughts coursing through the mind, I noticed the trees. I began to take notice of the trees and their lush green leaves.
There is something calming and meditative about the trees. Looking at them, I began to calm my mind and started to meditate.
At that time, I had not learnt any meditation techniques. I was simply meditating to the calm provided by the trees outside my window.
Since then, every time I looked at the trees, they gave me a sense of meditative calm and allowed me to sit quietly. The trees taught me to stay calm in the midst of change. Unlike humans, they remind us to be relaxed. I mean, they have no roof to shelter them from the intense heat and punishing rains like we do.
2. Trees have Presence
I might sound a little crazy to most people, or even lonely since I take so much notice of the trees outside of my window. But I must say, the more I pay attention to them, the more I can feel their presence.
This reminded me of the time I spent in a forest for a meditation retreat. I was staying in a hut in a dense forest. Sitting alone in the hut in silence, I could hear sounds made by animals in the forest, and the trees themselves!
The leaves rustling in the wind to branches falling off onto the ground. I felt I was living in a forest that is fully alive! I saw each tree as a living being.
Of course, trees are living beings, or else they would not be able to grow and provide nature with food and shelter. But having lived in a city all my life, this is not something we city folks would notice. Being aware of the trees outside my window, I could also feel their awareness. Our wordless awareness is not different from each other.
Everything is wonderfully alive around us and this is a joyful realisation for me.
3. Trees are Patient
One day, I was drinking my cup of tea while the rain was pouring down. I looked at the poor trees outside my window being pushed around by strong winds and beaten down by the hush rain. But yet they moved according to the forces of the wind and water elements. They did not resist.
I admire the resilience of the trees and their patience with the changes in weather. With the climate changing and affecting the trees, we certainly do not see trees screaming from being burnt down by wildfires.
Unlike humans, they have tons of patience with a can-do attitude.
Of course, we are not trees and we need to help ourselves and others when threatened by fires. But if we did not resist like the trees and go about doing what we need to do in a patient and can-do attitude, wouldn’t we all be calm like them?
It also reminded me of the late Dr. David R. Hawkins, a lay spiritual teacher and well-known psychologist who said, “When you don’t resist, you don’t need that experience anymore.”We all know that painful experiences come from our resistance to them. These experiences are only teaching us to let go. I felt it couldn’t be worded better by Dr. Hawkins and supported by the examples of the wonderful trees outside my window.
Pay attention to the trees on the street and in the parks without any concepts in your head.
Breathe in slowly and take in fresh air provided by nature around you.
Be with nature without separating yourself as one thing, and nature as another thing.
TLDR: Meditation is not all fun without struggles. It takes time and effort. It doesn’t just deliver peace and calm. It doesn’t make you invincible like a superhero. Here are 3 things I wished I knew.
Meditation has a wealth of awesome benefits- such as increasing calmness, improving memory and IQ, reducing anxiety and depression. As such, it is not surprising that well-known names have adopted these practices to ‘up their game’ literally. From NBA’s best basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, to top cliff diver David Coltur, they have all sworn by the benefits of meditation.
They claim it sharpens their focus and prepares them for facing and managing highly stressful situations and powers their stellar performances. Meditation screams power, perfection and prestige. But is it really as such?
NBA star Lebron James as Calm Meditation App’s Ambassador
It’s easy to look at these glowing testimonials and have a wide-eyed naivety about what meditation can do for us. We may think, “Finally, something that can cure me of all my misery. I can be productive, successful and happy at the end of a 10 day Vipassana retreat!” This perspective most people have about the benefits of meditation is simply the product of marketing and branding in a world of “do more, be more, and have more”. However, the reality is not that fun. Here are 3 things I wish I knew before starting meditation.
1. Meditation Takes Time And Effort
Meditation is no different from any other methods of self-transformation. You need consistent practice over time to reap the fruits. While there is no exact time frame given for when one can expect to reap the fruits of meditation, the research by meditation app , Headspace and various mindfulness programmes suggest it takes 8-weeks to make changes such as increased neuron activities in different parts of the brain. Other research suggests a liberal estimation of 5 years for deep changes to be experienced by the meditator.
One thing that the body of literature can agree on though, is that the magic number for a consistent practice to experience the benefits is at least 3 times a week of 10–20 minutes practice.
Think of it as planting a mango seed- there needs to be consistency in watering the seed, protecting the sapling as it takes root against wild animals, bad weather and finally, taking care to remove weeds and pests that may grow as the plant matures. Eventually, with all the right conditions in place, you can take shelter under a beautiful mango tree while savouring the fruits of your delicious, sweet juicy ripe mangoes to your heart’s content.
2. When You Are Meditating, You Don’t Just Experience Calm And Peace.
Whoever told you that meditation was all about blissing out into cloud nine and thoughtless voids probably confused meditation with taking ‘weed’. Meditation is about developing an objective and non-judgmental attitude towards whatever that manifests in the present moment (as defined by the father of secular mindfulness Jon Kabat-Zinn).
This means whatever you face in life before you sit on the cushion- crippling anxiety, unresolved childhood traumas, anger issues, obsessive thoughts… will arise in your practice and unleash its full wrath. You will cry and you will break.
Evolutionary neurons in your brain will beckon at you to run, to hide, and to avoid thoughts you have hidden under the carpet for a long time.; But it is in staying with these moments of wreckage, and tuning into the ephemerality of this chaos that true acceptance occurs.
Meditation is not always an experience of peace, but always a training of peacefulness.
That, my dear friends, is the beginning of a beautiful healing.
3. Meditation Doesn’t Make You A Superhero
In this journey of life, we all come with different baggage, some heavier than others. We have to acknowledge our own limitations and be open to seeking and receiving help to lighten the load. Sometimes, meditation is just not the right support at the moment.
Imagine you are on your way to work and you get caught in a sudden downpour. You will need appropriate tools, such as a raincoat, umbrella or seek shelter indoors to keep yourself dry . You won’t just be standing there declaring “I’ve got an expensive $4000 water-resistant suit on, I’m safe!” Just because something is inherently high value, doesn’t necessarily mean it gives you power.
True power comes with being able to use the correct tool at the right time and right place. This applies to meditation too. Unfortunately, when it comes to our mental storms, some of us might be adamant about fixing ourselves only with our meditation practice, even though the depths of our struggles are well beyond what our muscle of mindfulness and acceptance can carry.
There could be a false belief that being spiritual or having a spiritual practice can bypass the immense challenges faced in one’s life, such as mental illnesses.
Sometimes, we just need professional help or to open up to the kindness of the community. It takes courage to be truthful to ourselves by acknowledging our sufferings. As someone who faces regular mood swings, I wished I knew earlier that my meditation practice doesn’t take away my right to be imperfect and to be a mess. In other words, it doesn’t make me a superhero and I don’t have to be one either.
In summary, meditation simply is a tool with wide-ranging benefits when mastered and applied skilfully; it doesn’t add to your identity or your personality.
It digs into what already is there – both the skanky and the dandy.
Facing your experience of being human after an eternity of distraction and avoidance is definitely not easy, so let compassion and acceptance light your path. Progress and maturity come with understanding. The human experience is complex and chaotic, and understanding that there is value to be found in every experience- even negative ones, and choosing to embrace them with kindness and discernment, is the definition of being alive.
May this reflection be helpful to all who begin their meditation journey, and may all find peace, healing and happiness. Inner change is the key to a better world. Hurt people hurt those around them.
If you are in a community, encourage open discussions and conversations on personal struggles and challenges. There is absolutely no shame in being a meditator AND feeling overwhelmed, and the more people talk about it, the less embarrassing it becomes.
Identify other tools that you can supplement your meditation practice with, such as journaling, yoga, breathing exercises and use the tools appropriately to each situation that you face in life.