The Lichi Tree – A Recollection

I sat on the wooden platform in utter stillness, attentive to the heat and the filtering breeze and the occasional chirp of a bird. The wind rustled in the long grass that grew along the fence line. Waves of heat lay like an undulating sea across the dry cracked red earth endlessly scattered with leaves which were constantly falling slowly, twirling and spiralling down from the towering canopies of the giant trees. I sat transfixed in that spot for hours, undisturbed.

This was Hmawbi, Myanmar in August 2005. The temperature averaged 43 degrees Celsius. Moving at all would cause sweat to pour down and drip furiously from all pours. So I sat. I sat attentive to my breath as it passed through my nose, in and out. Slowly. Sometimes so slowly the breath would seem to cease and a finer more subtle breath would take over. Then the whole body slowly pulsed and pain was no longer an issue. Metabolism slowed, time stood still in the searing heat.

Hours passed that afternoon. Slowly and timelessly. The last meal in this remote forest meditation center is eaten before noon, and then there is nothing to do but sit against the heat, while the day endlessly hangs over itself, hovering.

Somewhere behind me, in the distance, past the wind in the grass, past the waves of rising heat and twirling down leaves, came the sound of children calling to each other, chirping and cawing as their nature calls to them. I sat listening as they made their way slowly as children do in this kind of heat, and as children do who survive in raw environments, where dreams have time to melt through the senses and animate all that is seen and heard and felt. Plants twisted into creatures who bow in awe of the great warrior trio strutting by with their magical staffs ready to vanish an enemy spy. The smells on the wind carry messages and all is safe for now.

The warriors are famished from a long day in the wild. Aha, a tree in the distance is hanging pregnant with fruit, sagging heavy in the hot ripe afternoon. It is not far, on the border of the meditation center which is alien and rich with houses made from brick, and people coming in hordes and disappearing again back where they came from after days of sitting and walking, sitting and walking. A still and silent place, slow and almost scarry but it is run by the monks so it is alright. We three great warriors will spare it from destruction today and only climb the tree to eat some nice plump fruit. We will do that. He the leader will climb the tree and throw down the fruit because he is the eldest and brave. He will accept because he is thirsty and aching for the sugary sweetness of the fruit.

I heard squeals of encouragement and a rustling into the branches of that tall tree. And I sat where I had been sitting now for hours, unmoving, unflinching. Breathing at times. I noticed the sound of the children. And that they noticed me because they called out battle cries to see if I would stir but I did not.

It was a lichi tree. Grape-like clusters of brown skinned fruit hanging from long broad and high branches. A thick trunk, strong and good for climbing, handsome, dense and rounded at the top. The scene behind me pulled me out into breathing again. My abdomen rises and falls. I know that. I concentrate once again after long being free of the need to do so. I felt a welling up of emotion, of gratitude for being alive in such a way. Minutes passed and sight emerged as my eyes opened. I inhale deeply. In front of me on the wooden platform where I sat was a cluster of lichi fruit. An offering from the three warriors.

I heard squeals, and rustling in the tree; I felt my arms, my legs. My body tingled with understanding. I looked ahead across the red cracked earth. My timer showed two and a half hours had passed since the last time I moved. I savoured the sweet white fruits one by one, and the children watched me eat slowly and we smiled to each other, and they played and climbed and continued to cut down the bounteous clusters of fruit. The day’s hottest hours began to fade and a warm but soothing breeze stirred the smoky sweet heavy air.

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