Monday, September 24, 2012

a kernel is hidden in me

A few days ago, I shared a few pictures of our mentor group's new acquisition of plants, and by serendipity I came across this beautiful post by Hermann Hesse on trees. I have read it several times since, and felt that I needed to share it with you. Now. Take a deep breath, find a quiet place. Enjoy.
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men (women! I added that) , like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

WOW! Right? In grade seven, we have been exploring vignettes,  and I think this passes for a pretty good example. Hesse says,
They struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.
Is that not speaking to each one of us? Is this not what we do everyday? Are we not the same as these trees?  What are your thoughts? Does this make sense to you? Is it too dense? Too complicated? Can we unpack it a bit? Do you need clarity? I would love to see what you think, please share your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to share your doubts and questions, as well as your observations and assertions. Let's see where we end up.

I felt with the addition of our classroom plants, sure they are not trees, but you get the idea-- we could gain a bit of understanding and build some respect for our new green friends.

Furthermore, I would love to see these words transformed, re-thought and remixed into some kind of art project. I know there are some amazing musicians, writers and artists amongst you; do these words inspire you to draw, sing, create? This post is like Caine's Arcade, in that I hope it moves you in some way to create. Consider it another seed that I have planted. I will wait patiently and hope that perhaps a few trees may grow.


  1. I agree with you when you say that we are like the trees Hesse describes. I agree with you, because I see this metaphor in myself and in how I want to grow and be the best thing I can be. It's when I try to be something that I'm not that things go wrong. Can you imagine a tree trying to be anything other than a tree?

    I think of the crepe myrtle trees in my front yard as a child that I liked to climb on cool, fall mornings. They lined the curb by the street in our neighborhood. Above the crepe myrtles were power and phone lines. The trees didn't mind these wires. They just stretched their boughs and limbs out and around the wires. They weren't going to let a modern inconvenience stop them from becoming who they were meant to be.

    We, too, learn to do this. When confronted with problems or challenges, we learn to problem solve and take risks. A tree doesn't stop and die - it continues on in the face of struggles. No matter what, it is determined to live and grow. I want to be like those trees. Sometimes I don't feel like I can do it - that I'm strong enough. But I surprise myself.

    I wonder if a tree is ever surprised by itself - in its own resilience?

  2. Awesome timing on this one, Jabiz. I stole a little of this quote (how had I never read this one?!) and put it in this picture:

    Which is another bit of crazy serendipity, as this picture was of a little journaling session that you helped instigate, where I'd just played the class your poem/song "Poetry is Nothing" and cited you as one of our Talons Teachers Abroad.

    A little more on the scene in this post:

    Wicked stuff. Thanks for the invitation!


  3. Great post,Jabiz and having just come from Sibu I do have the outdoors & what it teaches us so eloquently on my mind (post coming up). Anyway, well done Hesse. I love how he found beautiful language to articulate emotion and grit and meaning on some of these undefinable ideas. Beauty. Strength. Truth. Poetry. Nature. I had a tough time choosing which lines I appreciated the most. Apart from the one you indented in your post, this one jumped out at me. "Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life." I think it did because I encouraged and watched one of my kids in 7PGu climb a gigantic tree in Sibu a couple of days ago. Something she has been dying to do since arriving in Singapore. I hope somehow it opened up her heart having been able to do that. It most certainly tugged at mine. I believe she knows how to speak to trees and knows how to listen to them and I also know it's been tough for her not being able to be one with them. Much like me and the sea. It took my getting out of my smitten Singapore haze to realize what I miss about being away from my home the most. I miss the ocean.

    Finally, I love this idea of incepting seeds. From Caine's Arcade to Hesse's bait...I cannot wait to see who will bite the bullet and build ... well, whatever. You keep on talking about high fliers...I think we might be in for a surprise as to who will bite. So far, UWCSEA students have left us agog with who they are and what they can do often.

    Sheesh. I love our job.

    Anyway, thanks for being an inspiring teacher, my friend. Seriously. I know it doesn't matter that you are only a classroom away as Bryan has pointed out (Teachers Abroad) but I am a lucky duck that I can barge in your room pretty much anytime I can.