These past days I have been trying to dig out a tree stump. I haven’t done this little exercise for several years. As a kid, people where I lived often hired a man name “Pete” to get rid of unwanted tree stumps. He used dynamite. They called him “Dynamite Pete.”
What was once a beautiful ash berry tree on our lawn was destroyed in the 2007 October snow storm. For years it had given pleasure to our eyes as it unfolded and evolved over the four seasons. Each winter we enjoyed the beauty of Cedar Waxwings coming and in their team effort, sharing the berries among their colleagues. The berries also provided proof that Robins are year round inhabitants as they frequented the berry tree often in winter. Of course, the squirrels always got their share. In the spring its beauty was awesome and its leaves provided some summer shade and shelter small animals.
After the tree was broken down by heavy wet snow, we chopped and carried away its branches with a sense of sorrow, my mind reminiscing memories of the tree along the driveway. I even left the stump in the ground, sprouting shoots the next spring which I hoped would produce another beautiful tree. After two years I realized, as my wife reminded me, this wasn’t working. What was once beautiful and decorative to our home was now a shabby sign of decay. Finally out came the axe and shovel and removal began.
It didn’t go easy. After the first try, I realized the roots were deeper and more abundant than expected. I noticed sore hands and bruise bumps appearing from shovel heaving and axe wielding. I would dig and cut, rest, and try again. I rested for a few days and then resumed. More progress but the program/removal ended longer when the metal shovel blade broke apart. I entered another rest period.
As I shoveled and chopped, I asked myself what this effort might represent in my life; my effort to be a better golfer, my attempts to lose weight and eat healthier, my efforts to remember constant kindness to my wife and family, the efforts to stop aging aches? Well, maybe, but mostly the stubborn stump reminds me of efforts to stamp out that sense of separateness, aloneness, the feeling of futility and finiteness which dominates so much of our lives. The stump represented those once beautiful trees of life, full of vigor, resilience, endless hope for life-bearing fruit. But such ideas are always short-lived. What goes up here soon comes down. It’s a bi-polar world we live in. To deny it is to deny reality. You probably know what I mean. And then we all have a date with the shovel and axe, what Longfellow called the “grim reaper.” Try as we may to cover it over with chills and thrills, it remains on our horizons and pecks away at our memories and reminders with weekly glances into mirrors. Finally the storm hits and we are broken down for good.
In most sacred traditions, the body is viewed as our false self often seen as the ego identification with mortality. In these traditions, stories of a holy godman coming to earth are common, one who sought to live and teach another way. He or she would teach another awareness of who we are, a part of the Spirit World or Self which is connected to our Source, Creator. There would be stories given on how one could become awaken and married to this New Self. In some of the discovered books from the Nag Hammadi library, found in 1946, this awareness was dramatized by a marriage rite in which the ego self would be married to the Spirit Self. Archeologists have found “marriage chambers” where this mysterious marriage could be symbolized. Such a rite would enable the “awakened one” to better remember who he or she was. In the orthodox book of John’s gospel, there is the story of Jesus going to a wedding feast in which the wine ran out and so he changed water into wine. The water symbolized our ego selves, that part of us which exudes loneliness, guilt, and a sense of being alone and separate. The transformation into wine is the awakening event, causing one to sense being “born again” into a new life and awareness.
Such a remembrance in our day, or any day, is difficult to remember and live. It is like trying to dig out a stubborn stump which wants to hang tight into the earth of time and space and separation. We know we forget when we find ourselves judging others, condemning others as weird, odd, unworthy of our sacrifice of time and talent. We forget that nothing here in the physical universe of time and space can satisfy.
Yet, as in ancient scriptures, the mystical teachers taught one’s Spirit self was already into Eternity, in Source. It’s still very hard to remember at times, when friends, loved ones, betray, die, and hurt us. Many sacred stories portray the godman having his or her limbs literally torn from the body in physical death and torture, similar to the death of Jesus on the cross. They interpret this death as giving hope and belief that the many objects and things in this world can ever satisfy except for a very short time. So we learn to lay them down, and not take them so seriously.
Yes, removing the stump of body ego, once perhaps so beautiful and life giving, but now bowed by storms of life, is difficult. Indeed, we will always have such storms and problem stumps. It’s how we sail through this life on earth and time. But we can learn to take it less seriously, to laugh more, and let it go as we observe it as it is here. We can hear or listen to newscast with a different perspective; not shock or wonder when we will “get ours,” but simply know this is the way it is. And we sit each morning and evening and “return home” again, reminding ourselves during the day to forgive and let go, the things we do to ourselves, to others, and what others have done to us. Sometimes we need to get new and stronger shovels to remember, finding perhaps a new friend or even book to help keep on with the removal process. But the effort is worth it, to reach those moments of Union and Spiritual bliss and freedom.
Let us not quit digging and pulling on the ego roots, however many shovels and axes may fail. We do it through mind training and shifts in our perspectives. We can learn to be better “passers by.” Let us daily marry anew the Spirit Self, celebrating with each meal a little of the feast of love. And further, I confess that digging and chopping away at the stump was pretty good exercise. I even enjoyed it! So dig and chop away, and have some fun doing it. It probably wasn’t so bad being known as “Dynamite Pete.”