It's luminous green, the pendulous orbs which hung from its branches, so perfect and seductive.
This is the garden of Eden, I thought. And right here we have the tree of knowledge. The story of Adam and Eve has always perplexed me. Not only because of its complete disregard for evolution, but because this God, this father figure, did not want his children to be curious. Of course children are curious! If you tell a child "whatever you do, don't look in the third drawer of my desk", well you are asking for that drawer to be marauded.
And it was the 'tree of knowledge' for crying out loud! It is like saying "whatever you do kids, have fun, play your little hearts out, but DO NOT learn anything." Weird.
Of course, I know the bible was a commissioned work written many years after any events depicted may have taken place. And I know it is allegory or metaphor not factual reportage. But demonising a poor apple tree? All my pagan earth mother sensitivities take offence to that!! I prefer the story of Prince Siddharta (buddha) sitting under an apple tree and becoming enlightened through inner and outer observation....
Anyway, back to this particular tree...it grew next to a stone path in the splendid gardens of the Blackheath Vipassana Meditation Centre.I walked past it on the way from my dorm to the meditation hall, a walk taken at least 8 times every day for 10 days. So the tree became like a friend, a landmark on the pilgrimage, a constant sentinel watching us silent figures walking wrapped in our meditation shawls, to and fro, to and fro. Searching, seeking, stepping.
After the tree's obvious beauty and proliferation of green blushing apples, the first thing that struck me were the birds. This tree was the local cafe to the gorgeous collection of king parrots and rosellas which lived in the nearby bush. They hung in the branches, chattering their bird business. They argued, they played and they ate. They munched and crunched on those hanging apples, beaks glistening with juice, sometimes hanging upside down to get at a particularly succulent fruit. Sometimes they sat on the ground beneath the tree and snacked on the fallen bounty, sharing the spoils with one wary wallaby who was also enticed by the free and easy lunch.
I delighted in watching all of this activity. It was colourful entertainment in an environment deliberately devoid of distraction. And yes, I stole minutes away from my meditation practice to watch the birds. But then something began to happen.....
The tree began to illustrate everything I was learning.
'Annica' or impermanence. Yep, there it was right in front of my eyes. Some apples round and shiny and ripe, others small and darker green signalling their sourness, and more still rotting on the branches and falling to putrify on the ground. Constantly changing. Growing and dying at the same time.
Suffering. These birds which I had seen as a symbol of beauty and freedom, were in fact constantly in fear. They flew away if someone approached noisily and as I sat and watched them eat, they always had one eye trained on the potential threat that I, in fact, was. They fought with each other over the best apples and some of what I had interpreted as 'play' was actually jostling for position. Nothing carefree going on at all!
Craving. One particular bird that I watched seemed determined to have the best apples and would chase other birds around the tree, bullying them mercilessly. But this bird was never satisfied! He would manage to secure an apple for himself, take a few nibbles, then spy another bird whose apple looked better and off he went! A perfect example of wanting whatever he didn't have rather than enjoying what he did have. A little feathered slave to his own craving.
No sexy snakes or angry gods in sight.