“Mama, how do trees grow in the shade?” I asked.
There was silence. I didn’t look at my mother who was driving. For many trips and scenic-routes-to-nowhere in the Pacific Northwest, she would insist that I look outside at the view instead of inside the car. Inevitably, I would become car sick and would need to have the window open and my head or my hand hanging out. ‘I feel sick when I look at the trees going by, Mom!” “Then, look THROUGH the trees,” she said.
A whole new world opened up when I did. I saw things that seemed to stand still. Light cascading onto the forest floor, deer and birds in the safe haven of the forest beyond the trees, new dimensions of color and texture. The feeling of warm air pushing past as I leaned out and the sun shining upon my face in whips of light. This particular day, I noticed something new, trees growing in the shade. I wondered…how is this possible? My eight year old mind knew that plants needed sunlight to grow. And, yet, there were all of these trees and plants growing in the dark, cool shade.
“Mama, how do trees grow in the shade?” I asked again. This time I was looking at her.
There was a long pause. I waited for her brilliant, mom-knows-everything, answer. She said, with a glance, “That’s an answer you will need to find out on your own. Why don’t you write that down in your journal when we get home?”
I felt smart. I felt like she acknowledged something great inside of me. Maybe it was the way her face lit up with a tiny surprise on her lips. Whatever it was, I liked it.
I wrote it on a piece of paper in the car and transferred it into my tiny orange, faux-leather journal later that evening. I’ve since forgotten where the little journal is, but always remembered the question.
Over the years, I pondered what that really meant on a metaphysical level…How DO trees grow in the shade? When I learned how it happened botanically, I was a little disappointed, a little intrigued, and a little amused. The answer was too simple. My inner spiritual sleuth longed for more.
Reviewing my life experiences during the 38 years since that day in the car with my Mother has brought about the question again. So, how DO trees grow in the shade? How do we grow in the shadows of the Dark Season of the Soul? How does any one grow spiritually, physically and emotionally amid the shadows and trials of one’s life? How do we do this human experience and feel like it’s all worth it?
The only way I could justify being here, on Earth, as a Spiritual Being having a Human experience, is if I had purpose. A reason to live. After all, all I ever wanted to do is get out of this place alive.
The question, “How do trees grow in the shade,” eventually matured into “How do I enjoy my life and do what I love everyday, despite the suffering?”
In Summer of 2011, my weekly talk-radio show, SoulTalk with Jahdaa, went on the air. The question I asked all of my guests was, “Are you doing what you have come here to do?” I wanted to know because, if they were, then how the hell did they get there? I REALLY wanted to do what I have come here to do! At that time, at 42 years old, I was sick of living a mundane life of bullshit and experiencing trials and tribulations for no real reason except to suffer. I’m all about “soul-ution based suffering.” But, suffering for the sake of feeling like shit, just isn’t my thing and was getting really old.
The “mature” question stumped a lot of my guests…one even said, “I don’t know if I am doing what I have come here to do. There is a big difference between ‘doing’ and ‘being’. But, I do know that I am being who I have come here to be!”
That was a game changer for me. I asked myself the same question, “Are you being who you have come here to be?” I still wasn’t sure. So, I kept on asking.
Another year went by and, week after week, I asked my guests the same “Being” question. Some were moved to tears, some exalted, some absolute, some unsure, some annoyed, and most were grateful for the opportunity for self-reflection. One musician from New York emailed me weeks later after his interview to inform me that this question had left him reviewing his existence and he found himself depressed and in bed for three days because he thought he knew and now he was not so sure. I found this interesting. Was this my purpose? To shake the “tree of knowledge?”
One night late into my second year on the air, I interviewed author and public speaker, J. Ross Quinn. He turned the tables and answered my question with a question: “How can anyone know if they are being who they have come here to be if they do not know who they are? Do YOU know who you are?”
Doh! Stump-town! I wanted to cry. My eyes welled with tears and my voice caught in my throat.
The deal is, I DO know who I am. At the time, I just didn’t know how to Be the Authentic Me. Nor did I have the courage to “do” what it takes to express the Authentic Me in human form.
From that day, I relaxed into Kundalini meditation, twisted myself into excruciating yoga postures, chanted hours of mantras, invested in visioning, journaling, and several trips into the sacredness of our plush forests and beautiful Oregon coastline, an underworld cenote of a Mexican jungle, and into the bush of Jamaica to reason with a rasta medicine man. I have received empowerments from High Lamas of Bhutan, shamanic blessings from Native elders, prayers of healing from a Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Gurus, endowed with spiritual names, oracles, and divinations for introspection, affirmation, and confirmation.
And, with all of this, in the year and a half since J. Ross Quinn’s question to me, I have come to a simple knowing:
I am a spark of the Divine. How that expresses is up to me and is mine to do and be. Now that I know this Truth, how I experience my life is my responsibility. It really is an inside job.
As a former single welfare-mom of seven children, domestic and sexual abuse survivor, once jailed, twice homeless, educated by the University of Life, recovering drug addict, massage therapist, business owner, published writer, world-traveler, mentor, educator of Tantra, Love, and Native American spirituality, radio host and producer, public speaker, Lover of my family and all of Humanity, I am finally seeing how I can blossom in the shadows of my existence..and, how trees grow in the shade.
Excerpt from Desiree Rudder’s book, “Mama, How do trees grow in the shade?”