Standing with the Trees

Photograph © 2006 Peggy Kornegger
Photograph © 2006 Peggy Kornegger
A few weeks ago, millions of Turkish citizens took to the streets in massive demonstrations throughout the country, protesting an increasingly authoritarian government. The event that triggered public outrage: police use of violence against activists who were sitting in trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to prevent their being cut down. Government plans to demolish both the trees and the park—in addition to turning nearby Taksim Square into a shopping mall—pushed people to the breaking point. The trees are some of the only ones remaining in the city, and the square is one of the last places for public gatherings.

Many other issues have been on the rise in Turkey, but it was the threat of forced separation from nature and from one another that was the people’s “last straw.” Trees have once again become a symbolic focal point in human awareness. The crowds gathered in Gezi Park and Taksim Square were standing up, not for an abstract environmental cause, but for the quality of their own daily lives. For the right to see green trees outside their door, for the right to meet with their neighbors in a public space not based in consumerism. Those who joined them in the streets throughout Turkey acted with deep human empathy both for their cause and for the physical suffering they endured. These protests continue.

Nearly 16 years ago, Julia Hill Butterfly took a similar stand—and endured helicopter harassment and repeated attempts to break her resolve—when she lived for two years in a 1500-year-old California redwood to prevent it being killed by a lumber company that was clear-cutting the redwood trees. Julia’s selfless actions have influenced countless others, including those who may not even know her name. Her words: “Here we are, doing everything in our power as a society to destroy the gift of life while the whole universe continues to give us life anyway. That’s unconditional love in its purest form. I realized that I had to do everything in my power to return that love, not only to the Earth but even to those who were destroying the gift of life.”

These courageous individuals were standing in the deeper truth of their oneness with all living beings, with all life. They were surrendering to a greater Spirit, or Intelligence, within them, which moved them beyond reason, beyond even personal safety, to live their lives fully aligned with the source of life itself. Nothing else mattered. They were not thinking; they were acting from their hearts. And this is the energy that is rising more and more powerfully in the world, infusing us with hope and possibility.

In many spiritual traditions, the tree of life symbolizes the entire cosmos and our place in it. The Maya of Guatemala consider the ceiba tree sacred, and the day Aaj in the Maya calendar stands for trees and abundance. On this day, the Maya pray for harmony and for the resurgence of nature. Their prayers, from their hearts, connect to each action, each word spoken, in their daily lives. We are being called to live similarly now, aligning our heart’s truth with how we are present in the world moment to moment. We each have countless opportunities to be in harmony with something greater than our own individual lives. Can we humans at long last stand within the circle of life instead of outside it?

Julia Hill Butterfly and the people of Turkey inspire me to believe that it is possible. And the trees themselves inspire me. Each day when I look out the window at the tall maple trees in my back yard, I am filled with reassurance that life continues, that just as the trees stand strong and tall, while at the same time bending with the winds of change, we too can do the same.

The Maya Cosmovision: Beyond 2012

Tikal © 2007 Peggy Kornegger
“The Maya Keepers of Time know the opening of this new cycle to be transcendental, as it is the beginning of the Fifth Sun and brings with it the possibility of great spiritual awakening, insight, and realization for all of humanity.”—Nana Mercedes Barrios Longfellow, Maya Mam elder

Contrary to what you might hear or read in the media, the Maya never predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Never. That’s a complete misinterpretation of the ancient Maya teachings, which have been handed down and preserved by indigenous Maya lineage carriers. The Maya cosmovision brought forward by the Maya elders of today speaks of the end of one cycle or Sun and the beginning of another, one filled with light. This is a time of transition, possibility, and expansion, not apocalypse.

Over the past eight years, I have had the opportunity and honor to learn about the traditional Maya teachings from Nana Mercedes Barrios Longfellow and other Maya elders from Guatemala. A number of us have traveled with the elders to Guatemala and participated in traditional fire ceremonies at Maya sacred sites there. Gatherings and fire ceremonies with the elders have also taken place in the United States, often at Rowe Center in the mountains of western Massachusetts.

Nana Mercedes’ teaching always involves a discussion of the Cholqij, one of the twenty sacred Maya calendars. The Cholqij is used as a guide for the spiritual growth and evolution of human beings, thus its particular importance at this time. The calendar consists of a 260-day cycle, each day of which carries a different frequency. In Nana Mercedes’ words, “Spirit speaks through the energy of the day. If we attune to the frequency of the day and begin to obey the laws of the universe, that day that sacred energy will fully support us.” Using the calendar on a daily basis helps humans to live with a conscious awareness of the larger cosmos that we are a part of here on Earth.

Over the years, I have learned so much from Nana Mercedes: about slowing down and getting in touch with the flow of each day’s energy (through meditation/prayer); about living life with humility and respect for all beings; about being of service to others and being grateful for the blessings we receive every moment on this beautiful planet. To spend time with Nana Mercedes is to experience a deep connection to a profound and wise way of living in the world. “We are one heart,” she has always said, and for me that is one of the most beautiful of the Maya teachings. I feel it profoundly when I am present at a Maya fire ceremony and also when a group of us—some longtime friends, others new friends—comes together to hear the wise teachings that have been handed down for thousands of years.

In September, about 30 of us spent four days at Rowe Center with Nana Mercedes and Nana Regina (who is also from Guatemala). Afterward, my heart was full, and I felt the ancient wisdom and light embodied by the Maya, and other indigenous peoples, shining forth powerfully and helping with the global awakening of all beings to universal oneness. More and more, I see evidence of that awakening, in spite of the huge challenges the planet faces today. The Great Shift—this transition to a new era, or new Sun, which the Maya have foreseen—is with us now. And it’s not about one date, or even one year. As we release old ways based in separation and fear, the cosmic energy will carry us forward beyond time and space into full immersion in the realm of the heart. As Nana Mercedes herself has said, “We are destined to be evolved beings, living in harmony, with great gratitude for the miracles of life.”

2012 and Beyond: Radio Interview

On January 31, 2012, I was interviewed by Peter, Barb, and Ric on the Spiritual HelpDesk online radio show. We talked about the energies of 2012 and beyond and how the Great Shift is affecting all of our lives. I also read an excerpt about my trip to Guatemala with the Maya elders from my book Living with Spirit, Journey of a Flower Child. The program is available for listening at this link: