The Lesson Hidden in Every Tree

John Gilmore

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I had a big tree in my back yard when I was in school. It was a giant, stately, oak-the biggest tree that I had ever seen. It was beautiful and lively. On day, to my surprise and to many other people’s, the tree just fell. I the center of the tree there was a big hole. The whole tree had been hollow all that time. Inside there was a large piece of cement, where someone had apparently found that the tree was rotting and had placed concrete in it for what reason I don’t know.

It was amazing to think that that giant tree that looked so lively and strong was hollow all of the time. It could have fallen at any time and crushed any of us. Luckily it didn’t. It reminded me of many of our lives in the modern era.

One of my friends who is a college professor once said that people getting advanced degrees in his classes only showed him how many people could blindly follow the rules and do what they were told. This is a very pessimistic view, but even in the most pessimistic views sometimes there is a bit of truth. Many people are quite successful because they can memorize, they can do research well, they can write, or even speak affectively in front of crowds.

They can have houses, cars, good families and many things, but their lives can still be hollow, like the big oak in the back yard, because they are only doing what they are told they are supposed to do to be good people. Sometimes they become so bored with their lives they don’t even remember what is important. That is why it is very important for us to remember the beginning. Why did we want to succeed? Why did we want all of those things? If we can remember what we were looking for, and if we can remember the magic in the world that we experience when we were younger and happy, we will keep our center full, by keeping our hearts full of love and joy.

The Shaolin say that the heart of the pine is full [soft and spongy] and the rings around bamboo are hard. Since the heart of the pine is full and the rings of the bamboo our hard, in the winter when things freeze there is room for expansion, without breaking. There is a solid structure combined with softness and flexibility holding the pine and bamboo together, so that the coldness of winter will not destroy them.

Even so, as human beings in the center of ourselves and our lives we should find softness and firmness. We should be flexible, yet structured-working hard, studying hard, following the rules, but always leaving time for relaxation and play. We should always leave time to be creative and time to celebrate our successes and mourn failures. We should always enjoy the discovery of new things on the job, instead of hardening ourselves against creativity and excitement just to push forward and obtain a high standing.

Putting away the need for success, putting away the need for reward, and working diligently for the sake of creating a better world, or a better product for others, keeps the heart full. Being around groups of people who don’t look at wealth and status as success, but our quality of life as success, keeps softness and firmness at the center of our lives so that we do not fall. We do not collapse. By applying strength with flexibility and applying flexibility with strength, we become creators of the world. We do our work in joy and with peace. When the strong winds come we will not fall, because we will be strong enough to stand, yet flexible enough to bend.

The lesson learned from that old oak is that you can look strong, brilliant, and be a giant, but on the inside you or your life can be hollow. If we allow our lives to be hollow, one day, even if it is the last day of our lives, we will eventually crash and fall like that big tree. If our hearts are full of love, joy and creativity, and our lives are a refection of our hearts, we can withstand the coldness of any strong winds that may buffet us. We will take that love wherever we go and share it with a bruised and hurting world. This is the fruit of a full heart and a truly meaningful life.

Dr. John Gilmore is a writer, a martial arts teacher and a seminar leader of Four Minute Chi-Kung. For more information on practical spirituality go to . For more information on reclaiming your power and the beauty that resides within. Visit and examine A Return to Being Human Religiously, by Dr. J. W. Gilmore


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