Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Spiritual Meaning of Trees - Maya Becomes a Tree

Finished reading A Many-Splendored Thing by Han Suyin this evening.  It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a romance between a Chinese Eurasian woman and a British correspondent.  The action is centered in Hong Kong with some action in China and Korea in 1949-1950.  Read it for the first time in 1971 and it made a big impression on me as I was about to start my senior year of college and turn 21.  Upon this re-reading I underlined and made checks in various places for later contemplation. 

Here is one extended passage that happens to connect with my interest in the spiritual meaning of trees is from Part 3 Chapter 4.

One day I found her sitting at my desk in the office, having fled her bed again and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, she began to tell me about the tree.
Suyin, the main character, is at her job transcribing handwritten medical records using a typewriter when her sick friend, Maya, comes to visit.  She has terminal tuberculosis. Maya describes an experience.
“As I walked here” said she, “something which had not happened before occurred to me.  Halfway up the road I sat under a tree to rest, under a candlenut tree.  Facing it, looking at the straight gray silver trunk, ringed and speckled with a frolic of young days, at the dappled white-flecked leaves, plumaged-mottled birds poised for the gust of light, under the cool green shadows spread over me, and the slanting sunlight falling upon my hand, I became a tree.
You can search and find pictures of candlenut trees of Hong Kong as well as other places.  This is startling beautiful language presaging and amazing passage.  Maya describe existence as a tree.
Insidious and bone-deep the transubstantiation; an enchanted dupe I sat, my heart the tree heart, coursing sweet green sap, sweet fire within my veins, I knew its secret name, its drift of years; I felt my thick mindless roots clutch the live earth, digging through earth and stone groping for water.  I heard each leaf grow out, an unfurling pennant in strong search of that other rain, the light.  I strained my branches, insinuating into emptiness the flourish of my life.  I knew the self-absorption of the tree, the peace acquired at last, its contemplation of the day. I sat on without motion, tree basking in the sun, and all previous awareness a half-remembered dream.
This captivates me. I don't know what it means.  It does not seem like something the author could have completely made up.  She must be conveying to us something she remembers.   I wonder if this identification with trees or other entities is something that happens with some people?
“Suddenly there was a wrench, I coughed, and the division fell between the substance of the tree and myself.  I was I and the candlenut tree stood above, green and dappled with flakes of sun, remote, unknown. I came here.”
Now that this is posted, I plan to come back to it and ponder it from time to time.  It must mean something.

Should also mention that a movie was made of this book called "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" in 1955.  I was a little tyke but remember the Oscar winning song by the same name, a lush romantic memorable piece that attracted me to the book in the first place years later. 

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