I’ve been spending a lot of time the past couple of months with the apple tree out in my front yard. This wasn’t my conscious choice. I think the tree planned it. I’m beginning to realize it’s a pretty smart tree. “What? ” you say. How can a tree think and plan?
Consider this – my apple tree appears to act as a “whole”. Somewhere within it, it instinctually knows to grow its roots so as to hold itself up and absorb water; to grow its limbs and leaves in such a way to maximize its absorption of sunlight, take in carbon dioxide, and expel oxygen; and, grow and distribute its apples with its seeds implanted so as to propagate itself. This is a lot of coordinated activity.
Where does the direction for all this activity come from? A very strict materialist scientific viewpoint says that there is a coding in the DNA of the plant that has been developed by trial and error over millions of years that directs the trees activity towards survival and reproduction. Any activity of the tree that seems to imply that it is “thinking” is simply a projection by us and our thoughts. They say the DNA is like a computer code. If the tree’s sensory input says that more sunlight is coming from the south, then the code directs the tree to grow its limbs and leaves in that direction. The coordination of the tree’s functions is simply its parts following the DNA coding.
Yes, the tree is taking in sensory input, processing it and reacting with movement. In comparison to our degree of mobility, the tree appears pretty stable. Yet, we know from time lapse photography that the tree (and all plants) are moving with intention. It’s growing edge is its reaction to the environment. But is that reaction simply oriented for self survival and reproduction? I’ve become more and more aware that the tree is “acting” in a way which coordinates itself with a greater whole of which it is a part, ways that transcend but include simply self survival and reproduction.
My tree has produced a lot of fruit this year, seems like more than ever. Squirrels, birds, worms and insects have benefited from the nourishment. So have I. So have friends and neighbors to whom I have distributed apples. I’ve been able to pick much of the fruit that I can reach with a ladder. But I’ve thrown a lot more apples away.
One part of my tree hangs over the driveway. Apples fall, we drive over them. It’s messy. Twice a day for the past month or two, I pick up fallen apples and toss them in a garbage pail. Once a week, I roll a pail or two out to the street for the garbage men to haul away. The tremendous amount of the tree’s output has been driven away by humans to distant locations. This action occurs right under the apple tree.
It’s as if the tree conspired to have squirrels, birds and humans distribute its seeds as far and wide as possible. The massive amount of fruit produced this year could be a “coincidence”. It could be the tree “decided” that this was the year to extend its reach.
I know some of you are thinking that I am simply projecting human motivations on the tree. Maybe you’re right. Yet I can’t help sensing that the tree consciously realized how to train me to distribute its fruit.
Does the growing edge of the tree only extend to its physical boundaries? Is its growth only a direction in its twists and turns of its limbs, leaves and roots as well as its production of fruit programmed by its DNA with no consideration of its impact upon its neighbors and a greater whole? Or, does the tree perceive at a greater level how it is interacting with something bigger than itself? Does it realize how its efforts are benefiting the surrounding environment?
We could ask the same questions of our self. Are the motivations of our life limited to hardwired DNA instructions pushing us towards survival and reproduction? Do we see our growing edge limited solely to where we interact with the world and no further? Or, do we perceive at a greater level how we are interacting with something bigger than ourselves? Do we realize how our efforts are benefiting this more inclusive world?
You may think it’s an unfair comparison. After all, human consciousness has greater depth and has crossed the threshold to self-awareness. With such awareness comes the ability to not only meet basic survival and reproductive needs, but also to contemplate greater needs…ones that transcend our sense of limited self. You may be right, I really don’t know what a tree’s consciousness is like. Maybe it is all mechanistic, but I don’t think so.
It simply my perception, but I believe the tree has motivations that extend beyond its physical boundaries. The squirrels, birds and I may have helped the tree distribute its seeds, but the tree nourished us. It extended its circle of care and concern beyond its physical boundaries and it “cared for us”. It’s as if the tree through its fruit showed its love for us. You don’t have to believe it, but you can stop for a moment and consider it.
But beyond that, what message does the apple tree hold for us and our evolution? So where is your growing edge? Is it limited to your physical self or does it extend beyond the boundaries of what you call “you”? Can you see your boundaries extending to greater and greater levels beyond your physical self as you envelop others with your care and concern? Can through the fruit of your labors, no matter how they show up in the world, be a way for you to show your love?
Something to consider….next year, I’m going to get one of those extension poles with a basket on it that picks higher apples. I’m going to extend my reach beyond the “low hanging fruit”. The tree’s growth calls me to grow.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!