A bit of tree-wisdom on the subject of mess
Things were very different when I moved up onto my land nearly three years ago; I was a teacher, a yogi, and disillusioned with both. And so I was in a mess. I had joined the teaching profession years ago, and like many teachers, it was with the intention of benefiting the human race in some way. After twenty years, I was questioning whether I did ever actually benefit anyone, or merely participate in a system fundamentally damaging to the human spirit. Then there was the other disillusionment with what I shall term ‘yogi-ism’ (as opposed to the art of yoga). The realisation had dawned on me that no matter how inspiring the teaching, it inevitably becomes a religion. There is a poorly cloaked aura of superiority that surrounds the spiritual climber. ‘Do as I preach, not as I do’ is an unspoken premise of pretty much every guru around. Except for one.
Nature is what it is. It doesn’t have a self-image to protect, nor a living to earn. It doesn’t need followers, nor praise, nor a curriculum. It doesn’t care a hoot about concepts like good or bad. It just is.
I remember one of my first ‘awakenings’ up here in this small square of Eden. It was the time I suddenly began to see everything the other way up. It was as though I’d been wearing my life inside out for the past 40 years. It happened under my grandmother olive tree. It’s a wonderful tree with a peculiarly stout, straight trunk. Olives normally possess gnarled old branches that coil like dry-bark snakes. But for reasons best known to nature, my grandmother olive has a pine’s trunk. She’s proud and upright holding bundles of leaves in her rich branch hands. Naturally, with all that foliage she is the best sunshade on the land. One of the first things I had done once my camp was established was to sling a hammock between her and another olive up the bank.
That day I was swinging in the hammock watching the pomegranates ripening in the field next door, and feeling glum. Nothing had worked out how I wanted it to. My plans had gone up in flames. I didn’t want to teach any more but had no idea what else to do to keep the coppers rolling in. I was living in a tent. The mayor had just refused me water. My life felt like a mess. As I rocked, I looked at the other olive the hammock was tied to. Unlike the grandmother tree, this one has nowhere near the strength or classic aesthetic appeal of her sister. She’s a twisted old crone by comparison. Her branches are weak and full of knots, her trunk has split into three and she’s hanging onto a poor display of leaves. I closed my eyes feeling more than a little empathy.
But when, a few seconds later, I opened my eyes again, I began to see it all a little differently. From my rope bed, I scanned the vista of trees on the upper part of the land, and behind there into the forest. Bent pines sent branches jutting off asymmetrically this way and that. Olive trees were stunted. Prickly holly-like bushes exploded in the gaps like a mess of hag’s hair. Nothing followed any sense of decorum, nor any human preconceptions of orderliness. The word ‘mess’ turned over and over in my head. I realised my life, and nature had quite a lot in common.
I blinked again. And then that wise old gal, Gaia started talking. You see, nature is beautiful. Intoxicatingly, uncontrollably, irrationally, unreasonably beautiful. The greens, the browns, the ochres, the burnt siennas, the patterns, the non-patterns, the clutter, the spaces, the hollows, the glades, the carpets of pine needles, the dust, the speckles of flowers, the dried up stalks. It’s magical and enlivening and transformative.
I’ve learned so many things from nature, it will take me a lifetime to whisper her secrets. But one of them was that about mess. Mess isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, mess is where the truth happens, the stuff that tests your mettle, the stuff that makes you shriek in wonder and jump up and down in delight. So if your life is a mess, I say wallow in it. Yes, drink in the unruly chaos of it all. Tidiness is for robots not humans.
For me, it’s taking a while for that little nugget of nature wisdom to sink in. In truth, I have issues with mess. I like things to look just right. Everything has its place. But I am slowly starting to get it. That everything already looks just right, and is already in its place. Because nature just is. It’s not a climber. It’s not a wannabe. It’s an evolver. And now I see. They are not the same thing at all.
Atulya K Bingham
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