I met a tree in Costa Rica that changed me life. I had spent days working and my friend Simon suggested we take a much needed break and go for a hike. Simon is British but lives in Costa Rica. He woke up one day and decided to exchange the corporate jungle for the real ones in Costa Rica.
Simon is in his mid 50’s but looks a great deal younger. His hair is the color of whisky and his eyes are blue. Not the ordinary sky blue. They are blue like the sea, crystal clear blue, shimmering and crashing and churning. Looking into his eyes you can hear the waves falling against the shore, see the foam flying into the air. His eyes are blue like that warm wool sweater that you put on when the air gets that chill: comfortable, warm, familiar. His eyes are that kind of blue.
After driving on a winding mountain road we arrive in a forest in the Lake Arenal region. As we begin our hike I notice that in the forest the sky vanishes almost completely, only a few fragments of blue remain – like scattered pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The air is rich with fragrance of damp leaves. Outside of the forest is the noon daylight, the powerful rays of summer. But in here everything is cool and the colors have the softness of that time right before twilight. I take all the air my lungs will hold and expel it slowly. These hikes in the forest are like a trip out of my life, a visit to a place where the measuring of time is done only by the rising and setting of the sun.
Simon explains we are going to an ancient ceiba tree, considered holy in the Maya-influenced pre-Columbian civilizations. These gigantic trees are called “The Tree of Life.” Their roots lead to the underworld; their trunk is the world in which we live and the tree’s spreading branches hold up the sky, home of the gods.
Trees are one of the central symbols of the cultures of the world -the living center of the cosmos. I think of how James Cameron got it right with Avatar, this idea of the Home Tree in which all the people lived, and the Tree of Souls where the ancestors reside with the divine Eywa, Great Mother.
As I looked up I could see that the tree stood out from the rest of the landscape, bathed in a bright angelic light. The sky, a deep blue, gave the scene a fairytale quality. It seems everything was in awe of its beauty and even all of nature shushed in admiration.
The tree lifted her branches to the sky as if her very presence was enough to beat back the darkness and command the daylight to fall on her papery leaves. Her bark shone like the right kind of gold, the sort that inspires the mind to heady heights of imagination, opening doors to fantastical kingdoms. It was no wonder that the tree is where people go to recharge. The trunk and strong branches felt like a hug from the heavens above.
Its massive roots danced in and out of the dirt in abstract waltzes and minuet’s as they gripped the hard ground with strapping and powerful limbs. With its great bough’s it strives to touch the sky, and with its noble roots it strengthens its hold on the ground.
The tree raises upward forever; the canopy above is distant like clouds of green. Stepping carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, I am struck by a wish to melt in with it. Not to die, but to live forever amongst this ancient being. There is a sacredness her that transcends everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of forests, of oceans, of mountains. Under this bough I feel the breath of God and hear the beauty of His creations; how can I not be at home here?
As I stood under her creaking boughs, swaying, crooked limbs, overhanging branches coated thickly in pale green moss, I could feel a distinct and familiar shift in me. I have felt something similar as I walked up to the Jokhang temple in Tibet and at Machu Picchu in Peru, and when I approached the steps of the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain after I walked El Camino. Standing there, looking up I did the most unexpected thing – I dropped to my knees and wept. Uncontrollably. The rush of emotions – joy, peace and most of all, love, was so unexpected. It felt like the tree – this tree – was welcoming me home. I placed both hands on the ground before this tree and I could feel an energy go through my hands, through my arms, up my neck and into my face – right where I had four melanoma skin cancer surgeries just three weeks before. This tree was helping me awaken a deeper connection to nature because it was awakening a deeper connection to me. Maybe the large roots hold memories of ancient times and of the ancestors themselves. Who knows? Here’s what I do know – there is an intelligence, an interconnectedness, a collective consciousness embedded in our planet and this same energy occupies this tree. What I had – out in the middle of nowhere in Costa Rica – was truly a mystical experience.