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THE PARABLE of the GREAT TREE
Once there was an angry man who traveled through the heat of the desert, looking for a cool place where he might find refuge from the brutal sun and regain his strength, but there was none to be found. For many days he pushed his way through the sand and rock of the barren wilderness, praying for the smallest hint of shade or the tiniest breath of wind to comfort him, but all he found was more trackless miles of lifeless desolation.
He was about to despair of ever finding relief from the relentless heat when he came upon what he could only call a miracle: a massive tree shimmering on the horizon, its great bulk creating a large shady area beneath its welcoming arms. Thinking he had found salvation at last, he ran towards the mighty tree and the respite it offered, anxious to enjoy its cool embrace. As he drew near to it, however, he found he was unable to step into the shadow it cast around its base. Inexplicably, each time he tried, the tree seemed to retreat from him, sliding away from him as if repelled by a magnet.
But the man refused to give up. Repeatedly he tried to enter into the shade of the massive tree. He tried running at it as fast as he could, but it withdrew as quickly as he could run. He tried circling its great girth, closing on the shadow with each step, but when he tried to dart into its shade, it would slip into the distance once more, just out of reach. Anger grew within the man as he tried again and again to enter the shade, and with each successive failure his fury grew stronger and sharper and more pronounced.
Finally, just as he was about to give up, he noticed something he had not noticed before. There, in the darkest and coolest part of the shade near the tree's great trunk, sat an old man, small and gray as ocean froth, sitting on a small bench watching him. He had to rub his eyes to ensure the little man was not a mirage, but he quickly became convinced he was solid. What annoyed the man is that the old gentlemen appeared to be watching him with a bemused look on his face as he sipped from a cool glass of water as though he found his efforts a form of great entertainment.
"You there, old man!" the furious man finally shouted. "How did you enter into the shade? It is impossible!"
The old man smiled and shook his head. "Not impossible. Easy."
"Easy? I have been trying to enter for many hours and find the tree retreating from me each time. How have you done it?"
The old man took another sip of his water, the condensation on the outside of the glass demonstrating how sweet the water within it was. The sight made the man crazed with thirst. "You cannot enter alone," he said at last, pulling another mouthful of water through the straw in the glass.
"I cannot enter alone?" the man asked, bewildered.
The old man nodded. "You must bring others with you."
Frustration tore through the man afresh at the old man's words. "How can I bring others? As you can see, there is no one else! Only you, and you are already within the shade."
"Pray for those who also seek the shade. They will appear when you are ready to lead them," he answered simply as he took another long draw from his glass of water.
The man shook his head at the old man's words, certain he was insane. "No! You must help me enter! Come here and help! Show me how you did it!"
"I cannot even if I wanted to, for the help you seek is within you."
"You speak in foolish riddles, old man!" he shouted. "If the answer was within, I wouldn't need your help. Tell me how you did it. I demand to know!"
The old man didn't reply but only continued to sip at his water with a strange smile on his lips. Finally, when it was evident he would offer no helpor further advicethe angry man stalked away, confused and uncertain, but willing to ponder the old man's words. For hours he wandered the desert, thinking about what they meant, weighing them in his heart, until he finally decided that perhaps the old man's words contained some wisdom after all. Seeing no harm in at least testing the old man's advice, he began praying. Self-consciously at first but with growing determination, he prayed: "Almighty Spirit, I am dying in this barren wilderness. Please bring others to me that I might find my way to safety, I beseech you."
The man repeated the prayer, dozens, even hundreds of times, calling upon Spirit to hear him, until he felt himself grow weak and weary. Deciding his prayers were futile, he was about to give up when he suddenly spotted another figure shimmering in the heat in the distance, covered in a long, dark shawl and shuffling towards him uncertainly. Running to greet the figure, he was surprised to find an old woman, her skin red and cracked by the sun, her frame as fragile as a robin's egg, shielded beneath the thin covering.
"Who are you? What are you doing here alone in this desert, old woman?" the man asked.
"I am told there is a great tree which offers comfort to those wandering the desert alone. Please, sir, do you know where it is and can you lead me to the shade beneath it?" she asked through parched lips, her words as soft and frail as the rest of her body.
The man swallowed hard. "I will do what I can," he said.
"What of me?" another man, appearing from out of nowhere, asked. "I too am parched. Will you show me how I can find relief from this heat as well? Please, I have been searching for it so long."
The man nodded as he watched in amazement as more people, some young and some old, some wealthy and others poor, some men and women of nobility and others of the street, appeared on the horizon, all seeking the same thing. Finally, when a multitude had formed, he nodded in the direction of the tree. "Follow me," he said nervously. "I will take you to the shade of the tree."
With that, the man led the people towards the tree, drawing more confident with each step that this time he will be able to find shelter beneath its branches, for he was certainly no longer alone in his quest. However, as he reached the edge of the tree's great shadow, it again retreated from him, once more filling him with fury.
"Old man," he shouted into the coolness of the shade, "I thought you told me I could enter if I brought others, but I see now that your words are lies! The shade continues to resist me! Tell me why!"
A subtle smile curled the corners of the old man's mouth. "Tell me, have you brought these people here for your benefit, or for theirs?"
He was about to answer but stopped himself as he considered the old man's words. He wanted to deny the truth, of course, but he knew he had led the people to the edge of the shade only so he could enter himself. "I led them for my benefit," he admitted after a moment, the taste of honesty burning like bile inside his mouth. "Tell me, what else can I do?"
The old man studied him for a moment. "Only when what you want for them is more than what you want for yourself can you enter."
"I don't understand," the man said.
"Only when you seek their comfort ahead of your own will you be worthy of the shade of the great tree. Only when you are prepared to set aside what you want so they may have relief from the sun will the cooling shade embrace you."
Suddenly the man understood and he stepped aside for the old woman who had followed him from the desert. "You should go before me," he said, embarrassed at his own selfishness. The old woman smiled at him, gently stroked his cheek with her ancient, calloused hand, and stepped easily into the shade of the great tree. A second later, the second man did the same, but not before thanking the man for leading them. One by one each of the people took their turn stepping into the tree's cooling shadow and finding respite beneath its mighty limbs, filling the shadow to overflowing with their presence. For a moment the man thought there might not be room enough for him beneath the tree, so great was the crowd beneath it, but as he watched he saw the shadow of the tree grow in size to encompass them all. Finally, when the last of the people had entered, the man took a deep breath and stepped into the shadow of the great tree himself.
To his great relief, this time it did not retreat from him, but covered him with its cool darkness, sending the dust and heat of the desert fleeing from its shadow. For a long moment he stood in its perfect coolness, taking it all in. Finally, feeling refreshed and strengthened, he opened his eyes and looked for the old man so he might thank him. Remarkably, all the people were gone with the lone exception of the old man on the bench. He walked slowly towards him, curious as to what had happened.
"The multitude," he asked when he drew near, "where have they gone?"
"They found the relief they were looking for thanks to you, and have moved on, just as you will once you are refreshed."
"I I don't understand."
The old man took another sip of water and patted the bench next to him, signaling the man to sit down next to him. As he did so, he instantly found himself with his own glass of iced water in one hand. He drank from it greedily, letting the cool liquid rejuvenate his soul and burn out every last bit of rancor, fear and frustration that had been such a big part of his life for many years. He also noticed that no matter how much he drank from the glass, it remained full, and took comfort in the fact.
"The answer you seek is simple," the old man said after a long moment. "As long as you lived within yourself, seeking only to fulfill your selfish desires and denying others, you had no place within the shade. Once you turned outwards, however, and selflessly gave of yourself to others, the shade could easily enfold you. It is the lesson you have been longing to learn all your life, but you were never able to hear its words. Now you do."
With that the old man stood to his feet, sat his glass of water down, and began walking back towards the heat of the desert.
"Where are you going, old man?" he shouted after him. "Now that I understand, I have much to ask you. Please don't go!"
The old man stopped and looked back. "My work is done and it's time I moved on," he said with a smile. "You were the one I have been waiting for, and now that you have arrived, I am free to explore other dimensions of myself."
The man stood to his feet. "But what will I do here? I'm all aloneand I still have so many questions!"
The old man nodded. "I know you do, but the answers are within if you search for them. And as for being alone, how is that possible? Is not the great tree here to comfort you?"
With that the old man walked away until he was lost in the shimmering heat of the sun. The man slowly sat back down upon the bench, took another long draw off his drink, and pondered the meaning of the old man's words. As he did so, however, he spotted a figure on the horizon, moving determinedly towards him, his countenance stern and angry as he moved purposefully towards the shade of the great tree. The man watched knowingly as the angry man stopped at the edge of the shade and tried to cross into its cooling shade, his anger growing more defined with each failed attempt to enter. "Tell me, you in there," he shouted, "how is it I cannot enter into the shade of the tree? It withdraws from me each time I step towards it!"
The man smiled
as he took a sip of his water, sat it down next to him and looked up at the
man. "It is easy to enter the shade, only you cannot enter alone,"
he answered the angry man with a smile, finally understanding the meaning of
the great tree.
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