What Is Your Tree?

“What is it in your life that calls you to be bigger than you think is possible for yourself and for the world?”

– Julia Butterfly Hill

From 1997 to 1999, Julia Butterfly Hill occupied a 1,000 year old redwood tree to save it from the faller’s saws. The tree came to be known as Luna and because of Hill’s intervention, Luna was spared.

Speaking at a yoga gathering of sacred activists also called engaged spirituality or selfless service, a few years later, Ms. Hill told stories about the 738 days of watching old growth forest being destroyed. “My rage and anger were consuming me”, she said. The intensity of her feelings would have eroded her resolve to remain on the 4 by 6 foot platform had it not been for a period of prayer during which it came to her that love was the way forward.

Love is not a fluffy thing. It has edges and teeth. Love refuses to play small or sell out. Love is more powerful than rage. For Julia a key to experiencing love was forgiveness.

During an all-out El Nino storm that threw sleet and rain at the tree for several days, she prayed for her safety. At times the storm was so ferocious she felt Luna give at the roots and her prayers intensified. “I prayed for everyone I loved”, she said. That took days. Then she prayed for everyone she did not love and that was the turning point of her saga atop Luna.

At the very end of her list, the most unloved of all those she had met was a man who had stalked her and threatened her life. Julia prayed for his peace, healing and well being until she held those feelings in her own heart. The illusion of separateness fell away and she knew the yoking of all beings with certainty.

Julia Butterfly Hill formed a small organization, Circle of Life, which identifies projects sympathetic to the values that kept her aloft on Luna such as green publishing and eco-friendly music festivals and she creates the means that give them momentum. She has raised $3 million for dozens of organizations that celebrate sustainability and reverence for all life. Since completing her “Tree of Life” mission, she has founded the Engage Network.


Seane Corn, a Viniyoga teacher of renown left home at 17, went to Manhattan and waited on tables at the small café run by Sharon Gannon and David Life, now owners of the yoga studio and high end gathering spot in New York City called Jivamukhti. Corn had been experimenting with drugs to explore states of consciousness. Gannon and Life introduced her to yoga. She poured herself into study and practice with the best teachers she could find.

In the early 90’s in Los Angeles, taking her own phrase “off the mat and into the world” to heart, she was teaching young women at a shelter in Los Angeles called Children of the Night. They were former prostitutes and… “they ripped me to shreds with their negative attitude and disdain for yoga,” she said.

Crying in her car after an excoriating yoga class, she realized that the girls’ behaviours had set loose in her, buried feelings from an earlier troubled time. When she told the girls about her own struggles they were able to speak to each other with respect and appreciation.

She knew then that yoga was not about me, me, me… but about us. The yoga program she started at the shelter continues to this day.

Seane Corn stared down the very thing that scared her. She asserts that whatever takes us to the yoga mat – alcoholism, divorce, illness or unexplained fears – is the place from which we serve.

What is your tree? What calls you to look at your aversions and step up to stare them down? What is holding you back?

“ It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us… as we let our own light shine,we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear,our presence automatically liberates others”

(Marianne Williamson’s poem often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela.)

You can follow Seane Corn and Julia Butterfly HIll’s work at www.circleoflife.org and www.youthaids.org

Kelly Murphy is owner of a yoga studio in Nanaimo.