The Art of Contemplative Science: Praise for “The Songs of Trees”

Perhaps David Abrams approached it when he referred to the process of dying as “expanding into the wider life of the planet”. Perhaps Alexander Skutch was near to it when he wrote, “An outstanding attribute of an awakened spirit is its expansiveness, its insatiable hunger to experience more widely, to know more broadly and profoundly, to cultivate friendly intercourse with the whole of Being. The noblest mind is that which understands, appreciates and loves the largest segment of the Universe.” Occasionally, I too feel a glimpse and glimmer fountaining into the world, reverberating in and through everyone, thrumming in the languaging of life and the emotioning of living systems, wending their way – a skill-filled mystery – this cresting wave of now.

In the vast expanse of nature-in-process
In faith and trust and wonderment,
We give ourselves to this suchness,
This seamless mystery of birthing and dying.

Spacious, loving, with feet solid in the earth,
We nurture the hints at blessedness,
The myriad faces and masks of luminous knowing.

Moving as this flow of compassion and deepening enquiry.
We engage with all beings in ways that support the integrity,
the stability and the beauty of the entire field of live and living.

And then I came across “The Songs of Trees”, a recently published, beautiful and inspiring prose poem, by David Haskell. How do we describe this? Pith instruction? A gift from the heart? A dance of interpenetrating domains of living systems?

Many writers urge us to see, but Haskell invites us to listen, to listen so deeply that the sounds of trees, singing with all the other singers of this world, lifts us into a place of radical wholeness and practical love. He travels the globe with capacitors and sensors and digital paraphernalia. He records the songs, the ‘singing’ of trees, the pulse of sap, a dancing with wind and human footprint and traffic passing and cultures transforming. He opens a door to different times, revealing a glimpse of a planet unfolding, of nature in process, of mystery unfathomable. Perhaps most importantly, he invites each of us to pause and listen and wonder.

After reading this book the thought emerged that there is nothing further for me to write. Haskell has said it all, and so beautifully. For me, he is an exemplar of the art of contemplative science; simple yet penetrating observation conjoined with courage, intelligence and insatiable inquisitiveness which in Haskell’s case is inseparable from love. He radiates inclusiveness with room for everything and everyone. He studies, observes, teaches and shares. He sings and celebrates with passion and trust the mystery of life-in-process. This is a fresh demonstration of twenty-first century bodhisattvaship in action.

If you haven’t already read “The Songs of Trees”, I urge you to do so. Allow Haskell’s words to inspire you to put on your gum boots, take up your magnifying glass, or should I say magnifying ear, and sit with other beings. Namgyal Rinpoché once commented that the fastest way of awakening involved spending time with beings who are different from you. Sitting with the grass, with the sky, with the ocean. Listening to birds, insects and trees, wetlands and wilderness, to pulsing blood and trembling leaf, to resonating feelings and the deep mystery of emotion. Opening in translucency, embracing the whole symphony, this wonderment, this artistry, bringing forth beauty and sharing with all.

My heart-felt thanks go to David Haskell. May your life continue as a blessing for everyone.

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, David George Haskell; Viking, 2017
The Forest Unseen: A Years Watch in Nature, David George Haskell; Penguin, 2012