The Flowering Tree Ritual

Flowering Tree RitualThis is a variation on a Native American rite of passage ceremony. It’s a simple way to pause and take stock of where you are now, versus where you want to go in your life.  I think these are questions a lot of us ask ourselves on our birthdays, or maybe they help us to arrive at our traditional New Year’s resolutions.  By asking them in the context of the fresh start we feel during Spring, now might be the perfect time to consider doing this.  After all, Spring is about renewal, it’s a time of new growth and possibility.

As with most of the world’s indigenous people, the heart of Native American spirituality is their deep relationship to the natural world.  They have animal guides, they have sacred plant healing ceremonies.  They look to nature’s wisdom to help them with every manner of dilemma, quandary, or difficult challenge, both personally and interpersonally, with the individual or the community at large.

To Native Americans, their idea of a Great Spirit, or God – the thing that is all knowing and all wise – is that it is represented in everything found in nature.  So not only do all animals and plants have Great Spirit represented in them, but so do rocks, rivers, the wind, rain – all contain the same sacredness to be revered, and with which to be engaged.

Flowering Tree RitualThis Blessing Tree ritual requires that you find a beautiful tree in a fairly secluded area, so that you are relatively alone with it.   It should be big enough to sit under, the older the better, and ideally, one with which you already have a relationship.  But it’s perfectly alright to walk around and find one just for the purpose of this exercise.  (In preparation, now would be a great time to get your own copy of Peterson’s Complete Field Guide to North American Trees.  It’s a small investment that will pay big dividends in your quest to cultivate a deeper relationship with the nature around you.  While you’re at it, get the one for flowers, as well as butterflies and birds.  You won’t be sorry.)  Notice what attracts you to your tree:  is it the height, the shape of the leaves, the smell?  Is it a fruiting tree with new blossoms, a deciduous or an evergreen?

You might also want to start the ritual with a nice meditative walk on a lovely spring day.  Any way you approach it, choose to get out and get engaged with your surroundings, even if you are first driving some distance to reach your ideal location. (Although it would be nice for all of us to be able to just walk out our front doors and be connected with our wonderful tree in a short while, I recognize that is difficult for many.  Drive if you must, but first try walking.  Maybe plan a nice day hike with a picnic lunch in your backpack – an all-day affair would make this really special.)  Bring a pen and paper with you or your journal, and a small pouch or bag of loose leaf tobacco (a traditional Native offering of gratitude).

Determine the cardinal directions, then first sit on the East side of the tree with your back pressing up against the trunk.  Feel the course texture of the bark through your shirt.  Notice the thickness of the trunk, the way the branches grow overhead, and the leaf canopy.  Depending on your part of the country, and if you’ve chosen a deciduous tree, it might still be in bud stage, with none of the leaves (or very few) out yet.  Or it might already be leafing, just starting its chlorophyll production with pale green versions of summer’s darker iterations.  Of course, if you are sitting with an evergreen, then you are in an entirely different experience with your tree.

These are the questions to ask in each direction:

East:  What ideas have brought me liberation?   (Who am I)

South:  What beliefs have I outgrown? (Where have I come from?)

West:  What things do I regret and now let go of?  (Where am I now?)

North:  What are my life’s achievements as well as unfulfilled desires?  (Where am I going?)

Take as long as you need to mull over your answers.  Write down whatever comes up.  Again, you might be jotting down words on scrap paper in grocery list format, or creating a short story style entry in your hand stitched leather bound journal.  It’s all good.

Stay with each direction until you feel an overwhelming need to move to the next side (direction) of the tree.  Ask the tree for help with your answers.  Chances are, it’s been around a lot longer than you have and has seen quite a bit from where it stands.  It’s holding all that wisdom in its sap.  Listen very closely for the leaves to whisper out clues.

When you’ve finished, take out your pouch or container of tobacco, and sprinkle it around the base of the tree in a circle going clockwise.  As you do this, express your gratitude to the tree for all that it has given you.  You can say, “Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” (All My Relations) to conclude.