At dusk I sat under three live oak trunks that grow in woods near my house. I cleansed, grounded, and centered and began square breathing*, with eyes open and attention focused on the tree.
I imagined that, like the tree, wide roots extended from my feet into the shallow topsoil and deep into the porous limestone. I felt the cool water in the aquifer below and the slow, strong pulse of sap flowing from the roots up through my trunk. With arms and hands extended, I stretched gnarled branches up and out to harvest the day’s remaining light. I concentrated on the pulse of sap: steady, sweeping waves washing through me. Something fluttered against my left upper arm. A moth? I turned to see.
Poison ivy climbed the trunk beside me, and Virginia creeper crept across the ground in the shade. I recalled the saying to distinguish the two vines: Leaves of three, let it be. Leaves of five, let it thrive.
Life, as Above
The metallic green of a Fiery Searcher beetle drew my eye as it flashed against grey-brown bark. I watched the bark, where ants and other insects crawled, and where numberless microorganisms grew, I knew. Then I imagined traveling along the surface of the tree as it extended back down into the earth, as the bark thinned, covering the tree’s roots, reaching out with hairy branches for nutrients and water, teeming with still more microorganisms.
I was not just sitting one-on-one with the tree, as I had intended, but I was connected with a community of organisms, a local web of life. I silently thanked the tree and its community for the insight, said goodbye, and committed to return.
Trance, a state of expanded awareness and non-ordinary perception, is not just for those who believe in transcendent deities or astral realms; there are realms enough to explore in this physical, embodied world. As in the live oak trance I describe here, observing and deepening my understanding of the beings with whom I share this world changes my own.
In trance states we apply our physical senses to external objects and allow our internal perceptions and symbols—our imaginations–to unfurl as they will. And we trust that what begins in imagination may become real.
* Square breathing is a simple technique for relaxing and inducing a light trance state. It involves sitting or standing comfortably and repeating segments of breathing to a count of four, as in:
- Inhale, 2, 3, 4.
- Hold, 2, 3, 4.
- Exhale, 2, 3, 4.
- Hold, 2, 3, 4.
Anna Walther lives in Austin, Texas, where she practices place-based paganism, by honoring ancestors, observing the movements of the sun and the moon, collecting local stories, visiting trees, creeks and springs, and learning about the plants, animals, and minerals with which she shares her home. Anna is a student nurse, and she attends First Unitarian Universalist Church with her husband and children.