By Wizard in the Wings
You were once a strong forty-foot tree. You stood in a majestic forest filled with many other strong trees. You weren’t the most amazing tree. Bits of bark missing, a couple exposed roots, the odd infestation. You had permanent bends and breaks from environmental influences over the years. Toxic soil, the wind, the occasional fire, animals, they’ve all had influences on your growth. You’d been subject to years of this environmental influence. But you were who you were. You were strong in your way.
One day you look over to some of your friends in the distance and you see a man, tending a small sapling growing from the base of another tree. You learn that this man’s name is Vanguard. You learn that Vanguard has arrived as the chief steward of a “new forest” he’s cultivating. He gradually makes his way to you and asks to tend a small sapling growing from the base of your trunk. You’re surprised because you never noticed this sapling before. It sort of looks like you, and it’s clearly attached to you, it certainly must be made of you. The chief steward explains that through tending the sapling he can encourage amazing growth from within, so that you may grow taller and more majestic and come to understand your place in the forest.
This sounds intriguing to you. What could be better than growing tall? Being majestic? That’s all you’ve ever wanted in your life. And with the possibility of understanding one’s purpose, this just gets better and better. So you allow the steward to tend to your sapling. And when he’s done, you find yourself much happier knowing that you are about to experience this promise of tremendous growth.
After a while you begin wondering if you are becoming merely a nurse tree. All the attention seems to go to that sapling. None to you. And the sapling has got its roots digging deeply into the base of your trunk. It’s not only causing pain, but also uncovering other pain you’d forgotten you had. You begin to wonder why you ever agreed to let that steward tend to that sapling. When the chief steward returns the next time, you ask him, “Why do you spend so much time on the sapling and none on me?” Vanguard looks to you with a gently smiles and calm eyes, then says, “But this sapling is you. It’s your purest, original, true self”. You ponder this for a moment. Could this be true? It’s is after all, from me, we’ve established that. The chief steward encourages you to “embrace the sapling, and in doing so embrace yourself.” And you think, could that be the answer? If I embrace the sapling and consider it me, then all the attention will go to me. And perhaps it won’t feel like it’s inflicting the pain on me. I like that.
The chief steward then instructs you to focus all your attention, all your resources and all of your life energy on this sapling. He says, “Move beyond thinking you are the tree standing before me. It will be worth it in the end.”
All you see are benefits. All you see is the promise of a new life. Of outstanding growth. And you see the benefits your friends seem to be enjoying. Happily waving their branches in the air over there. From that point forward you happily invite the chief steward to tend your sapling and you gradually find yourself becoming that sapling. Gradually moving all your energy from your former tree-self into this fresh sapling. You feel younger again, refreshed and exciting!
The chief steward teaches you that under his guidance, you have the potential to become a wonderful new species of tree. Impervious to the outside world. More powerful than you can imagine. He convinces you to look at the tall tree you were. And when you look up now from your new sapling perspective, you see that that old self is narly, weather beaten and unreliable. Susceptible to all the dangers of the forest. You’d never looked at yourself from this view before. He says forget that big tree. It’s toxic and ugly and can no longer support you. You nod, in quiet understanding. Then the chief steward goes on to explain, in order to completely rid yourself of your dependence on your old tree-self, your new sapling self requires more special attention. And he alone will provide.
You wonder if this is true. You fear letting go of the old tree-self because that’s all you’ve ever known. It feels like a painful proposition and you question it at first. Then you look around and you see that the chief steward seems to have successfully cultivated many saplings in other trees all around you. That’s all you can see. All these beautiful little saplings nursing off of their giant former self-trees who have been standing for years. And in your own corner of the forest these little saplings have begun to obscure the massive trunks they nurse off of. You see only happy saplings, who look just like you, talk like you, think like you, and you think to yourself, look, were growing a forest here. Look at all of us. We’re all going to grow up to be a wonderful forest and new species of beautiful trees. We’re going to be the envy of all the other trees in the world. And the plan seems to be working.
Eventually, more stewards show up and you see less and less of the one they call Vanguard. These stewards have been charged with nurturing your development. And new stewards sound very much like the chief steward and have the same message. They begin to tend to your new sapling self in the same the chief steward did. They fertilize you and clear invasive species away from you. They tell you those invasive species are there to harm you. You become convinced that you are new now, that you’re good and growing stronger. All the other saplings nursing off their host trunks feel the same. You are all going to turn into a majestic forest, impervious to all that can hurt you.
Soon after, the stewards show up again and inform you of a new way to accelerate your growth. It proves to be the most powerful tool yet to ensure your strength and success.
They also tell you there is a cost to this new idea, but you think to yourself, “every day feels so good.” All the trees around you feel the same. You think, “If this can feel even better and I can grow faster, then I’m all in. What do I have to do?” You’ve agreed.
The stewards set about cutting the limbs off your old majestic self. You don’t feel anything. That’s the old you. You’re not going to attach anything to it. “Cut at will”, you tell the stewards. Anything to help you feel like you’re reaching your purpose faster. Gradually all the branches above you are gone and you begin to feel the warmth of the sun like never before. This feels like heaven. You suddenly feel a strange but beautifully invigorating breeze.
And before too long, that old, slowly dying trunk above you is unceremoniously chopped down and into pieces and disappears. For a brief moment you have remorse. That wonderful giant tree that was once you, that beautiful wise tree that has been shaped by years of growth in that forest with all its pain, joy and love is now gone. But it’s short lived when the stewards gently talk you down. They convince you, in a tone reminiscent of the first words the chief steward ever spoke to you. They tell you, “your sapling self is stronger than your toxic host ever was. You simply have to explore the meaning of how you perceive it.” “You must embrace your potential and forget about that firewood that was once you. That’s long gone.”
You begin to ponder the meaning in that feeling of loss. You weigh it against your current conditions. You’re surprisingly quite logical about it. You have access to water, to air, and you feel the warmth of the sun. And the love, oh the love of all the other saplings near you cheering you on. With this kind of support how could it be wrong? It only feels right. And soon you forget all that you were and all of the richness of life that had grown that massive former self.
Now you find yourself content in a sea of beautiful little saplings, growing from the stumps of their former selves, intent on creating this amazing forest of newness.
For a while, you grow in strength and numbers. This forest is going to be amazing.
Some don’t make it, and are cleared away in the same way the big trees were.
Some time later, stewards arrive again to check in. They tell you that because you are all still drawing from that same toxic soil your old self began in, you must have your branches pruned. This will make you stronger to withstand those toxic forces and help your progress. After all, growth requires sacrifice. They make a passing mention that they will occasionally cut away small bits of you that they find offensive themselves. But they believe their journey to make you a better version of yourself is within reach.
Some of the saplings become pet projects of the stewards. Special attention is given to those who need extra help. And even though their pruning seems harsher than your own, they seem to flourish. That’s what they tell you without hesitation. And eventually everyone has buried any notion of those tall trees they once were.
So over the next several years, the stewards keep a steady agenda of cutting away branches that don’t align with the chief stewards plan of creating a forest of oneness. A forest where all the trees look, think and act the same.
You don’t seem to mind at all. You even arrive at a place where when a steward shows up in your neck of the woods, you buzz with excitement. You’re convinced if they just cut away a few more rogue branches you will grow into this unbelievable forest of fantastic proportions.
This goes on for years.
Then one day when the breeze is still, and the air is warm you lazily look around and consider for a moment that all the forest looks the same. The same height, the same shape, the same ideas. You also realize that you don’t seem to be growing as fast as that old tree once did and your mind drifts for a moment into a memory. One you’d almost forgotten. It’s a memory of that beautiful tall tree that was once you, with all its interesting experiences in the forest that made it what it was. Full of strengths and weaknesses that had originally created you into that unique tree. One, that, when observed by an outsider, was full of interesting shapes and color and was full of desire and love for the world around you.
Your reverie is broken with a swift clip of a branch. You feel it immediately and it hurts. A cheerful steward gently reminds you, your journey to strength comes at a price. Then suddenly, without even thinking about it your thoughts turn the moment of pain into a beautiful learning experience. All is peaceful again.
And for a while you continue to pay a price for your growth, allowing the stewards under firm direction of the chief, to chip away at your limbs.
But over time, when the stewards haven’t been around for a while, more things come up that give you pause and you gradually allow your thoughts to take over again. Other trees, suppressives who were too weak to join in your journey, begin growing all around you and whispering all the while that you’re a mere sapling, incapable of attaining great strength this way. Those ideas begin to get a footing inside of you. It’s true that you’re not happy with the speed of your growth. You’re still not getting to the forest height you thought you’d achieve by now. And you have to admit that you’ve wondered if you will ever reach the height and strength of you’re almost forgotten former self. But with another clip of a branch you’re back in the program.
The stewards convince you you’re better than you’ve ever been. And they keep you and all the small trees focused on the idea of a “forest”. The idea of that strong majestic forest is the prize. And it’s attainable if you just stick with the plan. Ignore any trees who think otherwise.
“Ignore the suppressive.”, you tell yourself. You have a path and you’re sticking to it. And to prove it, you ask the stewards for more help. You ask them to do whatever it takes to get you there. The stewards extract more of your tiny branches in the name of your personal growth. And you willingly oblige.
But now that those doubtful ideas have been planted, you find yourself slipping into those negative thoughts more easily and at times, frequently. You begin to look around at the others who make up your forest. All still saplings, mere shadows of their former selves, believe they are already strong, tall, powerful trees now. Able to withstand all environments the universe inflicts upon them. Of course they cannot see themselves the way you see them in that moment, because they are in a permanent upward gaze, looking for the next revelation that is going to make them even stronger, taller.
You try to dismiss the chattering of the weak suppressive trees around you. You tell yourself they just have an axe to grind. You try to focus on your friends, the ones who look like you and sound like you. They tell you to not question the chief steward. They implore you to listen to the other stewards he has entrusted with his vision. Trust in the program. But still, something isn’t feeling quite right for you. Things are not making sense in the same way anymore. The stewards, in an attempt to solve your dilemma, tell you forcefully that a punishing pruning is for your own good and if you don’t do it you will never be strong. And once again you slip into acceptance. Snip.
One day, in your numb, slightly confused muted state and without thinking, you happen to shift from your usual gaze looking up, and you glance down. To your amazement you realize something you’ve long forgotten, that your roots are still firmly planted in that old stump of your former self. You’d forgotten that, because all of your focus has been on looking upward. In the direction the chief steward originally looked down on you when you were a tiny sapling. And you’ve been focused on listening to the stewards and following the advice as directed by the chief steward of cutting your delicate, tiny limbs and keeping you stunted with the promise of massive growth.
With clear eyes averted them from the heavens, you realize that you are still subject to all the toxic soil, wind, occasional fire, and animals, that had influenced that amazing that former giant tree self that has become less than a faded memory. And your new young roots are still firmly planted into the roots of that stump of a former self, drawing from the same universe, exactly they way you have always drawn from it. Only now you are small, and broke. You realize that because you are nowhere near the size or strength of the former you, that you are being weakened by the toxicity of an environment that you haven’t naturally grown accustomed to because haven’t allowed yourself to understand it. You’ve been taught it was wrong. Then word comes from the chief steward that you alone are to blame for your slow growth, and if you want real growth, you will need to take even more drastic measures.
Soon after a group of “special” stewards show up who you’ve never seen before and they begin attaching special tags on some of your friends. They seem to be hand picking these trees for something special. A growth lesson so profound that not every tree is capable of understanding it’s power. That is quickly followed by a few other “special” stewards who set out on the task of removing these special trees from their roots. From their original foundations. And in that moment it becomes clear that these “special” stewards, in the service of the chief, want these trees for their very own. The chief steward has hand selected the specimens he would like in his private collection. These beautiful fragile trees will never be part of the beautiful forest for everyone to see, and embrace, and love. These trees are for no one else but Vanguard.
This lands heavily on all the other stewards, the one who have been tending to your every need, the ones who have dedicated their lives in service of a greater purpose, they realize now, that for themselves their purpose has been corrupted. They look around at the forest they’ve been cultivating for so many years and realize for the first time that the promise of growth has been tainted, and they begin to wonder if they too were cultivated for the chief stewards insidious purpose. For all the good they thought they were doing, to be undone in a simple act of selfish vanity by one person. Perhaps they have never understood the true purpose of Vanguard.
And eventually, a few of the other small trees around you begin to recognize the truth. That for all the nurturing, encouragement, the constant and aggressive pruning, they are still roughly the same size they were when their giant former selves were cut down. That this perceived growth has been nothing but sleight of hand. A mind trick played out by the chief steward to keep you in line. Keep you paying with your limbs. Keep you submissive.
Then you notice those poor dutiful stewards who have become your friends. Their sadness is overwhelming. They set their tools down and tearfully move away from the forest they believed so much in. The forest with all the promise to grow majestically into most amazing place the world had ever known.
Did the forest really ever have a promise to grow in that way? Or was the promise a ruse used to enrich the lives of the chief steward and his “special” stewards. Was it all a grand experiment in manipulation, bent on exploiting all of the resources you and your beautiful forest had to offer?
Now you feel adrift. Its quiet. You and the other tiny trees silently contemplating all you have lost. All you could have been? You are small. And you’re never going to realize your maximum height now because you’ve been fooled into believing that in order to grow, you must be chipped away at forever. Some of your friends have gone. Their own values and ideas shaken. Your journey’s once interdependent, no longer sustainable. You and your friends don’t see things the same way any longer. It’s painful. And you feel like dying.
But you don’t.
One day your senses respond to that warm sun again. You feel the breeze. Gradually you feel the pain of it all subside. You begin to feel life in you again. It’s time to consider possibilities. You look around more clearly at this new lonely world you’ve been left with. And you realize once again that you are in fact still attached to that stump. That once powerful base, remnants of that beautiful, tall version of you and that has been little more than a memory, still has you firmly anchored within itself. You are still that tree. And just as Vanguard convinced you years ago that you are that sapling — you are that tree. Over the years you’d somehow lost sight of the fact you are still standing in the very same spot you’ve always been. And you begin to realize the truth in it all. The truth is, you have only ever been you. You have always been a product of the forest you were born in. And that forest can still be a beautiful place if you simply let yourself grow and work with the environment you’re in. The chief steward would never let you grow powerful. His intent was to keep you stunted and compliant.
And with this new awakening you realize that perhaps all you needed was to open up to the possibilities around you. That the toxic ground you were convinced was something you could only overcome through personal sacrifice is perhaps not as toxic as you were led to believe. It might actually be fertile. All you need do is move with the flow of life and adapt. You will learn to let the universe guide you. And If you are willing to let it guide you, the universe will provide.
With a smile, you let go of your control because you now realize that even in a plentiful forest, only you can can grow into that beautiful tree, alone.