“…during this profound moment of silence, despite noticing all the issues with the tree, she could also appreciate the beauty in front of her. The tree was touching the heavens with its luscious leaves and elegant branches but also firmly rooted into the ground, conveying strength and stability. Despite the flaws in the bark, the tree was incredibly beautiful…and maybe she could see herself that way.”
At the end of a silent meditation retreat, it’s typical for the group to “break the silence” together and share thoughts. I always have mixed feelings about this process. On one hand, I feel it’s beneficial for people to talk freely after deep reflection, and who better to do this with than the community that has been supporting your journey. On the other hand, I don’t really know these people so why are we bearing our souls to each other. As amazing as a retreat can be, the elements of my introverted, cynical self aren’t going anywhere and I am far from enlightenment.
However, on my most recent retreat, something happened that made me think differently. It all had to do with a woman and a story she told about a tree. She looked 50-something and I could tell she was shy. When she started speaking, she couldn’t look at everyone and her voice was shaky. At first, it seemed like she was rambling about this tree that she related to during meditation. People will often talk about how they stared at a snail for 30 minutes or smelt every flower and how wonderful it was. Not that I don’t appreciate how this can happen during retreat, but I’ve heard this story one too many times to be interested in hearing more. But this woman’s story took a turn.
She started off talking about this tree she was staring at during a walking meditation. In her heightened sense of perception, she noticed for the first time how gnarly the bark on this beautiful tree actually was. It was rough and flaky, went in these weird swirls and had stuff growing out of it randomly. It had so many flaws. She thought it looked ugly…and in this moment, the tree was just like her. She told the group how she’s been struggling with her aging process and how critical she’s become of her appearance. She is constantly noticing flaws in her skin, her body, her hair, name it, and she hasn’t been able to stop with these negative narratives.
But then, during this profound moment of silence, despite noticing issues with the tree, she could also appreciate the beauty in front of her. The tree was touching the heavens with its luscious leaves and elegant branches but also firmly rooted into the ground, conveying strength and stability. Despite the flaws in the bark, the tree was incredibly beautiful…and for the first time she could see herself that way. By then, she was in tears… and I was seeing myself in her.
We all have these moments. The inner critic in us seems to focus more and more on our self-perceived flaws as we get older. Although we may never succeed in getting this voice to shut up entirely (I think if you did, that might be enlightenment!), it’s important to remember, despite any perceived flaws, we are beautiful and majestic just like the tree. Don’t just think this but really see and feel it.
For me, I can see beauty in my smile that might have more lines now but has also acquired a look of confidence and authenticity my younger smile didn’t have. I’ve also come to embrace the sun spots on my cheeks – they make me look natural and warm. What can you see?
This type of beauty might be harder to see than the young flashy beauty we’ve been conditioned to immediately appreciate but it’s certainly there. Just like it takes time to appreciate a unique master piece, if you sit with it, I promise you’ll find it. Having the right lens and perspective to see the whole of you as you truly are is a skill worth cultivating. Fixating on flaws will give you a distorted view of how you look. Just like when viewing the tree, most people are captivated by the entirety of the tree and can’t even see the details of the bark. Let’s make sure we take the time and effort to actively see and feel beauty not just in the trees but also in ourselves.