I find Tagore’s poem ‘The Palm Tree’ really helps me to calm my mind and body when I am feeling stressed. In my blog below I explain why this poem inspires me and some of the strategies I use to find my own calm amidst the storm.
The Palm Tree
Palm-tree: single-legged giant,
topping other trees,
peering at the firmament –
It longs to pierce the black cloud-ceiling
and fly away, away,
if only it had wings.
The tree seems to express its wish
in the tossing of its head:
its fronds heave and swish –
It thinks, maybe my leaves are feathers,
and nothing stops me now
from rising on their flutter.
All day the fronds the windblown tree
soar and flap and shudder
as though it thinks it can fly,
As though it wanders in the skies,
travelling who knows where,
wheeling past the stars –
And then as soon as the wind dies down,
the fronds subside, subside:
the mind of the tree returns.
To earth, recalls that earth is its mother:
and then it likes once more
its earthly corner.
“What if trees could dream?”
What would they dream of? On a gusty day, a palm tree can look as though it is about to take off – its fronds flapping in the tropical wind like wings.
In ‘The Palm Tree’, Tagore imagines that a windblown tree is dreaming of becoming a bird and flying amongst the stars. The first verses of the poem are full of expressions of desire. The tree is lost in a flight of imagination.
Like the tree, my mind often gets carried away and caught up in ideas of the past or future, hopes and dreams, ‘if-onlys’. I value these dream journeys, they allow me to visualise new possibilities and know what it feels like to fly. But, in the winds of thought, planning and excitement, it is easy to get lost in my mind: to find myself exhausted by words and ideas.
In the poem, the roots of the tree hold it safely and allow the branches to dance and dream and fly until it is ready to return to stillness. In the final verse, the dream disperses and the tree returns to its earthly body and to it rootedness in the ground.
The poem reminds me how important it is for me to come back come back to my body, to my breath and to the earth. A tree without roots will not last for long and I too must remember to keep anchoring myself to a place of stillness. Only then am I am able to maintain my inner stability, even when I am busy and my mind is active.
I find that conscious breathing can be a really powerful anchor. Becoming aware of the breath can return us to the rhythm of our own bodies and help to soothe and calm us. The breath is often referred to by yoga and meditation teachers as ‘the bridge between mind and body’. As we bring our attention to our breath, we often find that it naturally begins to deepen and slow. This can calm the body by reducing our heart rate and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
The breath can also remind us of our connection to the trees and plants around us: with every breath, we are exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the world. When we breathe with an awareness of this, it can help us to feel connected to our own ‘earthly corner’. I find that connecting to the natural world puts my worries into perspective helps me to feel grounded and a part of a greater whole. Rather than feeling that I have to solve everything, I can relax and surrender to the knowledge that I am part of a larger system of life on earth.
Walk as though you are kissing the earth with the soles of your feet
Another strategy I use to ‘ground’ myself is to bring my attention down to my feet as I walk or stand. I notice the touch of my feet on the earth beneath me and the sensation of weight shifting from the heel to the ball of each foot. Zen monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh, suggests, ‘Walk as though you are kissing the earth with the soles of your feet’. Bringing our energy down from our busy minds to our feet can feel like a relief and offer us space to let our minds release and relax at bit.
By returning to the breath, to the body, and to the natural world, we may root ourselves to the earth so that we can dream but not get lost in the open sky of endless possibilities. When we feel our minds becoming over-active and full, we can consciously connect to a feeling of stillness and peace.
Perhaps this is how trees dream, and perhaps this is just one of the lessons they can teach us!
- I inially wrote this blog post as a guest blog for Rachel Kelly at rachel-kelly.net/the-poetry-of-trees-by-fern-taylor. Rachel Kelly is author of Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness, The Happy Kitchen and Black Rainbow. She is a poetry lover and mental health advocate.