I recently listened to a woman’s speech about having lived in a Stone Age indigenous community doing volunteer work for many years. She adapted herself to their lifestyle. In her descriptions, she casually mentioned that the village would gather together each week “at the Meeting Tree.” This sounded like a natural assumption that a large tree would be the place humans would sit to have significant discussions. This concept fascinated me since the only people I knew who might meet at a tree were picnickers or beach goers.
Using ink, I drew one of my favorite trees in Hawaii, the Monkeypod. As an introvert, when I imagined people gathering, I preferred to think of the interior discourse one had in meditation, therefore I placed two people enjoying silent time together. Because the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath a Bhodi tree, meditating under a tree is a familiar image to me. I’ve also enjoyed many years meditating amongst the branches and leaves of a tree I had climbed, or seated solidly on the ground next to a tree in a forest or in a yard or park.
The Meeting Tree drawing is nearly symmetrical, emphasizing the peacefulness of contemplation. Yet, enough differences exist between left and right to maintain an engrossing visual dynamic. The composition features diagonal lines in the shape of the tree and the hill it sits on. Diagonal lines create the most jolting and exciting abstractions to the human eye. An asymmetrical tree trunk adds energetic diagonal lines to the overall design.
I emphasize dynamism in the composition because meditation is an active process as I allow thoughts to arise but decline to attach my ego to one. Sometimes, my ego insists on grasping at a notion: judging it or obsessing over it. When that happens, I gently allow it to remain a while, with compassion for my worries. After I’ve pondered the issue, I ask again if I can now allow my ego to ungrasp. It astounds me how often I can let go of busy, unnecessary thinking and maintain serenity. Trees help me to meditate. I feel calm and centered when I’m near a tree.
Recent studies show that the increased oxygen around trees, as well as the phytoncides (plant chemicals) they produce, benefit human health: lowered blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. Anxiety, depression and anger become measurably less. Immune system strength grows. The phytoncides are strongest in evergreen trees – pine, fir, cypress, juniper, cedar – whose captivating scents we love to inhale. These trees also demonstrate the most benefit to human health. Perhaps that’s why I’m intuitively attracted to trees. I love to walk among them, sit under them and draw them.
Keeping my inner dialogue clear isn’t easy – it’s a work in progress. A tree helps settle me, giving me a sacred space to enjoy companionship, comfort, shade and improved health: a bountiful place to meet with my interior self.
The Meeting Tree is part of a solo exhibit at the Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York during November and December 2023. See Kauffman’s exhibit online here.