Redwoods, Messiah, shared-attention, and sustaining CI

“One of the things I love that is so special about the Redwood trees is that they are MASSIVE and yet they only send their roots about ten feet deep… they send them wide and hold onto their community for strength. Good reminder for us all,” says Gentle Thunder, a sister of the “standing people,” her bellowed tree beings. She plays flutes, drum and hammer dulcimer in a way that stirs the souls and seduces us into the deepest reverence for life. The beauty of her music and the systemic wisdom of her words reminded me a new way to look at my quest, a new way to hold my question:
Why can’t we stand together as the redwoods, grounded in our collective intelligence and wisdom in a sustainable way, not only in the precious moments of enlightened communication or the magic in the middle (.pdf), when our heartbeats synch with the rhythm of Life itself?


Granted, the redwoods have an “easier job,” they don’t have to respond to complex demands that accelerating socio-technical changes create for the human species. Yet, as Gentle Thunder said, there is something to learn from them. What if we, humans, welcomed one another’s gifts with arms as open as the root system of one redwood does to the other. What if we cared gifting one another, as if our collective survival depended on it? What if it does?
That reminds me the beautiful story of the Rabbi’s Gift. Have you heard it? David Isaacs told me the story first, many years ago. Since then, it became part of the electronic folklore, spreading by email and websites, of which there are now more than 400 referencing it. It is the story of a monastery with decaying vitality, where the remaining monks seek advice from a rabbi in the next village, about how to re-ignite the spirit in and around their abode. They receive the surprising reply, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
As the story goes, “the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.” If you and I were two of those monks (or a monk and a nun) 🙂 , I would treat you not only with great respect but also a hungry curiosity of what I can learn from you. When that respect and welcoming curiosity start spreading in our “monastery,” we gain admission to our collective wisdom.
Let’s say, we have a “Jedi Council,” a group of exceptional individuals liberated from the tyranny of ego–with only occasional relapses–and working together in world service. Let’s say, we experience such moments and want them to stay for longer, then start living with us. What practice of ours can enable them to do so?
I guess it’s paying attention to what we pay attention to. Why? Because being weak in that practice risks to bring us back to a narrower consciousness, absorbed by the nitty-gritty of daily life and fleeting, chatty thoughts, even if only a few minutes or hours. In those moments, our availability to the evolutionary impulse–that brought us together–is gone. Strengthening our competence in paying attention to what we pay attention to will ask from us something new; nothing less than fully engaging in the serious fun of cultivating a sustainable shared-attention, the foundation of sustainable collective intelligence and wisdom.

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One Response to Redwoods, Messiah, shared-attention, and sustaining CI

  1. Bruce Takata says:

    George’s post on the redwoods makes me think of the qigong form that Grandmaster Mingtang teaches. It’s perhaps the oldest known form of qigong (some think 7,000 years old)–and considered one of the most spiritual. It’s a completely static form–no physical movement.
    The form is called “Big Tree” (Da Shu Gun). It was originally developed by inquiring into a question: Why do humans commonly die after 60, 70, 80 years of age–while trees can live 200, 300, 400, 1000, or sometimes even 5,000 years? What might we learn from trees about adaptability, survival and longevity?
    The “dynamics” of Big Tree are internal. One assumes the Big Tree pose, then imagines: 1. Legs becoming roots growing into the ground–becoming a strong tree. Drinking moisture, nutrients and yin energy from the Earth. 2. Torso extending high into the sky, higher than the clouds, reaching towards the sunligight, stars and moon. Absorbing light, wind, rain, and cosmic yang energy. Becoming expansive, enormous, light. 3. Feeling qi between palms and navel. 4. Drawing qi from the Earth and from the Cosmos. 5. Feeling the energy ball growing, expanding beyond the boundaries of the body. Expanding like the cosmos. 6. Finally, shrinking the energy ball–making it denser–until it again fits inside the radius of the body, then between palms and navel. 7. Concentrating the qi in the lower dantian then placing your hands on this area (one hand over the other). Mentally compressing the ball of qi into a point in the center of the lower dantian.
    Experienced practitioners practice this form for hours or even days at a time. They BECOME Big Tree.
    So… The tree in this case serves not so much as a metaphor, but as a kind of spirit guide.
    The story of the Rabbi’s Gift reminds me of this C.S. Lewis quote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses… It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all our dealings with one another… It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”
    Finally (sorry for the length of this post), talk of trees and immortals recalls this famous Taoist story about change:
    On the day of his disappearance from home, Wang used his magical abilities to pass through walls and journey under the ground until he was far from his village. He started traveling eastward to Shantung Province to find his seven disciples. He journeyed thousands of miles, but on the road he met only two kinds of people: those who desired fame and those who desired riches. No one was interested in what he had to teach about the Tao. Seeing the apathetic attitude of the people, he returned to Shensi Province. Passing by an area known as Mount Chung-Nan, he was taken by the beautiful landscape of rolling hills, wooded slopes, and hidden waterfalls. He decided to stay here as a hermit and wait for the time when the people would be ready to accept the Tao. Tunneling into a hill, he found a cave. There he lay down, brought his breath under control, and, like an animal hibernating in winter, slowed down his bodily functions, conserving energy for the day he would emerge from the cave.
    Wang had been in the cave for half a year when one day he heard a loud sound. The earth shook and a large crack split his cave open, revealing a shaft of bright light from the sky. The beam of light slowly transformed itself into the figures of Immortal Lü and Immortal Chung-li Ch’üan. Immortal Lü laughed and said, “When people become immortal, they ascend to the heavens. How come when you became immortal, you hid underground? It looks like you haven’t been doing what you were supposed to do.” Wang Ch’ung-yang knelt before his teachers and said humbly, “I did not mean to disobey the orders of the Heavenly Lords and my teachers. I journeyed to Shantung and found nobody willing to listen to my teachings. Thus I thought that the time was not ripe and I should lie here and wait until there were people willing to accept the Tao.” Immortal Lü said, “There are people waiting for you everywhere. You could not find them because you did not know how to look. Take yourself, for instance. You were destined to attain the Tao, yet we could not have found you had we not disguised ourselves as beggars traveling around the countryside. If we had simply looked around we would have never found you. Do you understand now? Everyone is ready to accept the Tao. It is up to you to find the right opportunity to teach them.”
    Immortal Lü continued, “I was in the city of Loyang and found that there was no opportunity for me to teach the people there. So I went to the kingdom of Chin, a land of so-called barbarians. There I found the prime minister of the kingdom to be a virtuous man, and imparted to him the teachings of the Tao. This man immediately resigned his office, left his fiefdom, and followed me into the mountains. He has now attained the Tao and has been given the Taoist name Liu Hai-ch’an. Liu journeyed south and gave the teachings to Chang Tzu-yang. Chang Tzu-yang became the patriarch of the Southern School. For Chang Tzu-yang taught Hou Hsing-lin. Hou Hsing-lin transmitted the teachings to Hsüeh Tao-kuang. Hsüeh Tao-kuang taught Chen Chih-hsü. Chen Chih-hsü taught Pai Tzu-ch’ing. Pai Tzu-ch’ing gave the teachings to Liu Yung-nien and Pang-Ho-lin. From them the teachings of the Tao blossomed in the south, and each was responsible for imparting the teachings of the Tao to many. And here you are, saying that there is no one to be taught. Your seven disciples are destined for immortality. They will form the Northern School of Taoism and be known as the Seven Taoist Masters of the Northern School. You should learn from the example of Liu Hai-ch’an, for your abilities are not inferior to his.”
    When Wang Ch’ung-yang heard this, he trembled in fear and remained prostrated to the ground.
    Immortal Chung-li Ch’üan directed him to stand up and said kindly, “Do you know why we are pressing you to hurry and help the Northern Seven Masters to attain immortality? It is because the meeting of the immortals in the celebration of the immortal peach is imminent. The peach tree grows on the mountain K’un-lun, where it flowers once every thousand years. It fertilizes a seed once every thousand years, and the seed ripens into a fruit once every thousand years. Three thousand years must pass before the fruit of the peach tree ripens. The ripened peach is as large as a melon, red and shiny, and even one bite of it would lengthen your life by one thousand years. The Empress of Heaven does not want to eat the fruit all by herself but has invited all those whose names are entered into the roll of the immortals to share the fruit. The Seven Taoist Masters of the Northern School are on the invitation list, but in order to attend the celebration the must have attained the Tao by then. If those invited do not attend, the Empress of Heaven will be very disappointed. In the first era of human kind, a thousand immortals attained immortality. These immortals will return to the earthly realm to help others leave the wheel of reincarnation after their deeds are acknowledged by the Empress of Heaven at the celebration. If you are unable to help your seven disciples attain the Tao by the time of the celebration, many mortals will have to wait another three thousand years before their teacher will appear.”
    Wang Ch’ung-yang finally understood. Humbly he said, “My heart was clouded. Now it is clear. I shall go to Shantung and search for my seven disciples.” Immortal Chung-li Ch’üan added, “Remember, go to where the land meets the sea, where horses are plenty and towns nestle in the rolling hills.” The two immortals disappeared and Wang immediately set out for Shantung Province. He journeyed to a county called Ning-hai (meaning “settlement by the sea”) and remembered Immortal Chung-li Ch’üan’s words, “Go to where the land meets the sea.” There he halted his travels. Dressed like a beggar—like Immortal Lü and Immortal Chung-li Ch’üan—he entered a town and mingled with the people.
    –Seven Taoist Masters, translated by Eva Wong, Shambhala Classics, Boston, 1990, 17-19

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