The specific idea that motivated me to commit to positioning myself in close proximity to a tree for ten minutes after sunset every day stemmed from a season of marriage counseling and therapy, during which I learned that developing a habit of disciplined silence and solitude would benefit both my business career and my mental health.
The challenge to find a tree every day, alone, without crossing private property, was usually just one of making room in the schedule. For most days, that time was available for a discretionary ten or fifteen minutes. Occasionally, if in a meeting or traveling at that hour, I could excuse myself from the room, or pull the car over somewhere, without much inconvenience at all. I was blessed at one such event, in Detroit, MI about three months into the one-year commitment, when I left a stuffy hotel conference room to seek a small fruit tree in the courtyard. The tree had dozens of fragrant, pink blossoms that complemented a momentarily spectacular sunset so much that it was genuinely breath-taking to observe. After standing next to that little tree for 5 or 6 minutes, I returned to the meeting. Soon thereafter I was invited to offer a creative solution to a difficult problem which our group had been struggling with. The idea that came to me was an instant consensus breakthrough. The clarity of mind from that short outdoor visit may have been the key to the effective solution. Would that be too much to conclude? In any case, the event proved to be an incentive to continue the daily quiet times with trees.
The commitment to perform the ritual for 365 days was easy to honor as the refreshing outdoor breaks became the highlight of each day. It’s now been close to 40 years since that one-year commitment ended, yet I still remember many of those individual trees.
One particular day I was over-committed during the time interval between sunset and dark, so I paused by a scrawny, potted ficus tree that was off to one side of a large restaurant atrium. The meeting with that poor, undernourished tree was too short, and my body longed for the expected fresh air that always accompanied these visits. There I learned that there was more to these short periods than just “tree and me.” Now I also appreciated the roots, the aroma of the soil, the precious fresh air. When outdoors, one can feel the ground, and look up into a majestic display of branches, leaves, clouds and sky. I gained respect for even the small trees as I considered them weathering the environment and co-existing with insects, birds and animals across so much history for generations. These remarkable trees became friends.
After that year, I let the discipline relax, but do continue to seek the company of trees wherever they come close. Yes, folks might questions a grown man talking with trees. No one knows my mind though, as I quietly say hello.
However, the trees do know.