Walking along my favourite bushwalk the other day, I came across a tall pine tree growing between the track and the bubbling creek. I felt as if I were meeting an old friend such was my familiarity with its presence. I stopped to engage and feel its organic, towering presence. To acknowledge and relate to it with respect and wonder. I observed its rough, thickly layered and deeply crevassed lichen mottled bark, becoming fascinated by its layered rough texture and the tiny webs of its spidery inhabitants within the deep gouges running down the trunk.
As I stood there observing the tree at close range, I intuited a metaphor growing out of the tree’s fascinating outer layer. Armour – protective layers growing out of the inner living tissues as a means to protect from potential threats. We too grow armour around our psyche, layer upon layer of mindsets, attitudes and behaviours to protect our perceived vulnerabilities – emotional, psychological, existential and physical. Most of us have some form of armour that shields, protects and ultimately separates us from an open engagement with others, human and non-human. We hide our vulnerabilities perhaps because we are shy, ashamed, embarrassed by them, perhaps because we have the received messages of not being enough if we are not totally comfortable in our skin, in our roles. In my rush to hide, in my not reaching out to hold a steady guiding hand, I withdraw into my cave and show the world my armour.
Ultimately armour that has grown over many years into impenetrable, unmoving plates leads to various forms and degrees of isolation. Armour protects and its evolution is entirely understandable in terms of our responses to trauma, threats and assaults on our being. It protects and provides existential groundedness when needed even though it may be as illusory as the separation we feel permeating our life. But we are not trees such as this pine tree that wears it permanently. We are humans that can choose to discard if we recognise its presence and restrictiveness. The tree’s ‘armour’ does not isolate for it is always interconnected with many other beings within its community.
As I engage this tree, tactilely with exploring fingers and open heart and inquisitive mind, I recognise the restriction of armour. How can I fully engage another being openly if I am encased in my particular armour? I wear my armour unconsciously to protect my perceived vulnerabilities or inadequacies which lie dormant behind the habits of protectiveness. These habits unconsciously direct my behaviours in a world of potential threats. In openly engaging this tree I am subconsciously acknowledging the armour I clothe my being within and the importance of disentangling my Being from it.
You see the difference between the tree’s ‘armour’ and mine is that its does not impede growth – the tree grows from within, each year laying down a new living layer towards the core and an outer ‘dead’ layer of bark outside. This outer layer becomes part of the craggy bark that is part of the tree’s character and wellbeing. Our armour grows from disturbances within our psyche that continues long beyond the initial cause of the disturbance. It continues to shield us from illusory or potential threats. It locks us into a restricted narrow perspective of our reality. The large pine tree seems to be asking me the question: are you wearing armour that is weighing you down?
In asking me the question, it also offers an immediate solution: be fully engaged with me in this moment and let go within this moment of connection. I do not analyse what my armour is, I just open up to the moments grace of a loving embrace of this tree. In entering into its being, I too settle into being….and feel relieved of the heaviness of my armoured self I have unconsciously carried through my life. To sense the metaphor within this tree’s bark allows me to recognize my own armour, or the idea of being burdened by armour. In putting it aside for this precious moment I can enter into the tree’s presence more fully, with appreciation and honesty.