Archive for the ‘green wisdom’ Category

Truth, Sturdy Tree   Leave a comment

In English (and other Germanic languages) there’s a cluster of words related etymologically in “deep time” and beginning with tr-: true, troth, trust, tree. The meanings they convey branch outward — the metaphor is no accident — in other European languages, with similar connected meanings. In some Indo-European languages it’s specifically the oak that’s the quintessential tree, its hard wood most reliably “true”, able to hold its shape, resist warp and rot, or honor the gods like the oaks at the Greek oracle at Dodona, sacred to Zeus. Druids aspire to be “people of the trees”.

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It’s no surprise then that speakers of these languages tend to think of truth in similar terms. Languages offer such networks of related meanings, idioms and imagery that shape and direct our thoughts and our cultures in both subtle and pervasive ways. The resource of words, like any resource, can be spent well or ill. We can draw on it to nourish and enrich human lives, or abuse it to twist, enervate, and destroy. We are, as older culture put it, only as good as our word.

In the archaic “troth, betroth, plight one’s troth”, we encounter truth in another sense, as a promise, something time will help fulfill, yes, but primarily a human action dependent on fidelity and effort. To betroth is to promise “by one’s truth“. Here, truth doesn’t just happen. It’s an outcome of a commitment. We enact truth. We say of something that it “holds true” — it meets the tests of time and other forces colliding with it. If this intrigues you, start a list of other expressions like it, and work with it in meditation.

So we have two related senses of truth: a quality often inherent in experience, and a human way of perceiving, choosing and acting. But in both cases, when something is true, it exhibits a quality similar to a good carpenter’s labor — the pieces fit, align, work together harmoniously, possessing strength and beauty and utility. Hence our sense of truth as something that is often beautiful as well. English idiom also gives us the lovely image of things that “ring true”. Truth, then, also “sounds right”. While a true thing may not exhibit all these qualities every time, it frequently does in surprising ways.

So I offer this as another subject for meditation: in how many ways does a truth appeal to the senses and offer its qualities through numerous images and metaphors in making itself  accessible to human consciousness?

I’m always looking for techniques, for strategies and methods. My pragmatic streak longs for good ways to do things. (That’s not to say my lazy and selfish streaks don’t play their parts all too well. What’s new there? We all deal with limits worth exploring and working with creatively.)

freevector-tree-world

These two related senses of truth offer what I’m looking for in the form of three challenge-questions I can ask: (1) Does my experience of a person, thing, idea or course of action offer these qualities of harmony, fit, rightness, alignment? (2) If I enact a commitment in my own life based on these qualities as indications of its truth, do I achieve results with similar qualities? (3) Does a possibly true thing “hold true”? That is, do its qualities persist over time?

Apply these observations at will to your own choices, commitments, beliefs and the actions of others. Do they hold true for you?

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Images: Wisdom Tree; Tree World.

 

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Interlude: The One Hundred Percent   2 comments

friends-in-circleWhen we stand in Circle (and whatever circles we stand in, we all stand in at least one circle together), we don’t all need to face the same direction to face a common center. Ritual gives us a common language.

“Trickle-out economics” is my favorite kind: not up or down, but outward — from one person to others. We let someone in line, we hold a door, we do our best, we make someone else’s path a little easier, not for thanks but because the action itself builds, because what goes around comes around, not in some strict accounting where I’ve gotta be sure I get my share, but because we all drink the water and breathe the air. The Commons may not be a very popular idea right now, but it still exists nevertheless. And it exists every day, in ways I impact with my actions right now. Include the psychic spaces we live in and it’s very large and very accessible to the influence of each of us.

Fear is rarely productive of positive action. Whatever I can do to reduce fear in my life will help me make better decisions right now. It also makes life more fun. Whether it’s cutting back on media like endless news about political disfunction that doesn’t help me live well, or turning to media like good music that does, focusing on areas and ways I can act  will keep me from squandering my energy and attention worrying about what everybody else is doing and thinking. Less fear in me also calms others around me.

baseballAnything above .300 is a commendable batting average. We don’t need to be perfect.  In fact, it’s usually easier to get better when we don’t aim for perfect but for improved. Meatloaf sings that “two out of three ain’t bad” but baseball says “one out of three is already pretty good.” Most things have a rule of thumb. Life mostly consists not of bending the rules in our favor but in finding rules that actually work often enough to be useful guides.

The natural world is a pretty good teacher. Its functions and systems have been in place longer than human civilizations, so they’re honed and refined to a high degree for fulfilling their own purposes and needs. Watching birds, clouds, water, trees, bugs and beasts go about their patterns and habits and lives teaches us valuable things because we’re part of the same system, built on a similar pattern, designed to function in comparable ways. Watching nature is also some of the best therapy you can get for free. There’s a reason for that fishtank in the doctor’s or dentist’s office.

Solwom wesutai syet — “may it be for the good of the whole” in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European* — ain’t a bad mantra at all. I use it in my own practice, and it helps keep me balanced. It doesn’t always fit every particular situation, but when it does, it connects me with a human life-way that’s proved its value over millennia.

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*sohl-wohm weh-soo-tie syeht. solwom — genitive plural of solwos “all, whole, entire”; wesutai — dative singular of wesuta good (abstract noun formed from wesu, su- “good”); syet — optative form of the verb esti “is” — “may it be.” “Of-all for-the-good may-it-be” — may it be for the good of all.

Image: circlebaseball.

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