i started school today.
it’s not like the school i went to when i was growing up. there aren’t any books. they don’t have chicken nuggets for lunch. i was allowed to bring my dog. and i’ve never had a teacher who was this old.
at school, i don’t talk. but it’s not because i’m not allowed. i’m allowed to do anything i want, actually. no one will stop me. i don’t talk because i really love to listen to my teachers. i sit, and i watch them. i try to be a good student and to receive the lessons with an open heart. i learn the most beautiful things. some of the stories, though, are in a language i can’t understand yet. but i know, every day, if i pay attention, i can hear a little better.
this is tree school. the school of the woodland elders.
there is something about the forest floor. the branches overhead. the creek’s laughter, and the sun peeking through. something about the natural order of things that invites an inner quiet. to let the elders speak. to let the insects and the birds sing. to stay mindful of the saplings precariously making their way skyward to maturation.
the woodland elders ask things of me that make me question so much of what i thought i understood. the most radical thing in tree school is that they ask me to be myself.
not to sit nicely. not to fold my hands in my lap. not to stay neat or tidy or pretty. not to ignore my feelings. not to have the right answer or to be on time. actually, they don’t have time at school, not like we know it anyway. here, time has less weight, less authority. things move at a sacred pace that need not be measured to be felt.
i would love to be myself here at school. but the truth is, i don’t really know how. and at first it feels dangerous and foreign. my impulse is to sit perfectly still in “a meditation shape.” but when i lay my head back onto the steady trunk of my teacher, i understand that it’s ok.
all at once, when given the freedom to be, i feel heavy and tired. but just underneath that, i touch something else. something that today looks like anger. something so powerful it scares me because i learned from such a young age that to take up space, to have needs, to have fire, will illicit resentment and fear in the people i love.
so i bartered for years with divinity, pleading: ask anything of me that you want. take anything from me that you want. but please don’t make me live there. don’t ask me to live in that space where it is sharp and loud and wild. don’t ask me to be the things that the people i loved told me not to be. that the people i love now are so afraid of.
because i believed. i believe. that to be myself is to be alone. to be a constant source of pain for those i love. that to be what i am is to be prickly and polarizing and devastating. that i will never know intimacy without violence because i am by nature a storm. and that this is in direct violation of my contract to be here wherein i agreed to forfeit my right to authenticity so that the people around me can feel comfortable.
and i stay there, my rage working through me on the forest floor, sure that everything around me will crumble in the face of it.
but when i look up, the trees are still there. patient. unchanged. and they have not been destroyed by me. there has been no fire, no flood, no apocalypse.
for the first time in my life, for one tiny moment. i lived in the space that i am. and i wasn’t too big. and i wasn’t too loud. and i wasn’t too angry or too sad or too fast. i could be as expansive and as honest and simultaneously as quiet and as still as i wanted to and no one left and no one died and no one was ruined and i was still there. on the forest floor with my teachers.
i wanted to leave an offering. a ritual to close class. so i opened my phone and found an old friend of a song that, i realize now, was as much a gift to myself as to the school. the trees, henry, and i all listened together, to the medicine i had come looking for. “you can’t rush your healing. darkness has its teachings.“
class was over. so with the insects and the wind as my playlist, i moved with the trees. (thanks, henry, for looking out.) this was my homework. so i can go back to school tomorrow.