A few weeks ago, millions of Turkish citizens took to the streets in massive demonstrations throughout the country, protesting an increasingly authoritarian government. The event that triggered public outrage: police use of violence against activists who were sitting in trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to prevent their being cut down. Government plans to demolish both the trees and the park—in addition to turning nearby Taksim Square into a shopping mall—pushed people to the breaking point. The trees are some of the only ones remaining in the city, and the square is one of the last places for public gatherings.
Many other issues have been on the rise in Turkey, but it was the threat of forced separation from nature and from one another that was the people’s “last straw.” Trees have once again become a symbolic focal point in human awareness. The crowds gathered in Gezi Park and Taksim Square were standing up, not for an abstract environmental cause, but for the quality of their own daily lives. For the right to see green trees outside their door, for the right to meet with their neighbors in a public space not based in consumerism. Those who joined them in the streets throughout Turkey acted with deep human empathy both for their cause and for the physical suffering they endured. These protests continue.
Nearly 16 years ago, Julia Hill Butterfly took a similar stand—and endured helicopter harassment and repeated attempts to break her resolve—when she lived for two years in a 1500-year-old California redwood to prevent it being killed by a lumber company that was clear-cutting the redwood trees. Julia’s selfless actions have influenced countless others, including those who may not even know her name. Her words: “Here we are, doing everything in our power as a society to destroy the gift of life while the whole universe continues to give us life anyway. That’s unconditional love in its purest form. I realized that I had to do everything in my power to return that love, not only to the Earth but even to those who were destroying the gift of life.”
These courageous individuals were standing in the deeper truth of their oneness with all living beings, with all life. They were surrendering to a greater Spirit, or Intelligence, within them, which moved them beyond reason, beyond even personal safety, to live their lives fully aligned with the source of life itself. Nothing else mattered. They were not thinking; they were acting from their hearts. And this is the energy that is rising more and more powerfully in the world, infusing us with hope and possibility.
In many spiritual traditions, the tree of life symbolizes the entire cosmos and our place in it. The Maya of Guatemala consider the ceiba tree sacred, and the day Aaj in the Maya calendar stands for trees and abundance. On this day, the Maya pray for harmony and for the resurgence of nature. Their prayers, from their hearts, connect to each action, each word spoken, in their daily lives. We are being called to live similarly now, aligning our heart’s truth with how we are present in the world moment to moment. We each have countless opportunities to be in harmony with something greater than our own individual lives. Can we humans at long last stand within the circle of life instead of outside it?
Julia Hill Butterfly and the people of Turkey inspire me to believe that it is possible. And the trees themselves inspire me. Each day when I look out the window at the tall maple trees in my back yard, I am filled with reassurance that life continues, that just as the trees stand strong and tall, while at the same time bending with the winds of change, we too can do the same.