This metaphor is a bit cheesy, yet I will try to use a fresh angle. The premise is very simple. We search for knowledge to gain something bigger. From my experience this is only a partial success. In this article I want to explain why. If you want to explore with me, you are also welcome to read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
What kind of a tree is it?
The knowledge is often compared to trees. There are all kinds of trees with great religious importance. The tree of Adam and Eve, the tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment, the tree where Arjuna practiced archery, the Yggdrasil that connects the worlds in Norden mythology and Odin’s ordeal… While the tree of life is a common archetype, the trees were used as a means to gain the utmost level of wisdom.
Data trees, mindmaps or other tree-like structures are useful to encode our knowledge for a very simple reason. We start from one point, the trunk, yet as we progress through the tree we can get everywhere, including every leaf, fruit, and root. Everything we know usually starts from a simple title line and then progresses through subtopics until we end up with a single fact, argument or detail to remember.
Knowledge from above and below
Trees have roots and leaves. In a way they pass through all the worlds: the roots rest in the underworld, the trunk stands in front of us, and the leaves touch heaven. Our knowledge is very similar. Some of it hidden and psychologically important. Another part of knowledge is very practical and helpful. And some layer of knowledge deals with things below our ordinary lives, like birth and death of stars or the history of nations. When we learn, we may approach different parts of the tree and may look for different answers.
A person who is looking for spiritual awakening has all the time in the world, while a person reading the latest trends is always in hurry. The most common request of people who address me is learning languages. Yet, more often than not, they do not really know what to do with the languages they learn. Another common request is passing a test to be eligible for some education or work opportunity. It is clear that passing the test is only one of the many milestones on a long road, yet it is the most important thing for the person that awaits examination.
A moment to rest
Another interesting aspect of a tree is a place to sit, rest and think. We are so busy living our lives, fulfilling the smallest expectations of others, trying to achieve our own goal. Yet, to get a higher level of knowledge and achievement, we need to stop what we do and focus on something new. This is something people rarely do. It is hard.
There is no immediate gratification in sitting down to think. We need to be very focused and committed to the subject to think about it for a while, alone, in silence, without jumping to a myriad of other things. What would you think of if you had to focus on just one thing?
The most common thing, that unites all living creatures is the life itself. Focusing on being alive: the breath, the heartbeat, the sun and wind on the skin may generate a new understanding of life, compassion, joy, and humility.
Focusing on a role model, be it a person, an act or a thought, makes us closer to the role model. To the point where some part of the role model merges into us and becomes a part of us.
I would love to say that focusing on a challenge allows us to solve the challenge. Unfortunately, it never works. At least it never worked for me. There is a myth involving Newton and an apple tree, but I would not take it seriously.
Climbing the tree
Newton said once that he succeeded only because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. This was possibly a clever joke on a small man he disliked. Yet we choose to address this quote literally. It is easier to climb the tree on knowledge if there is someone to support us, and we should be eternally grateful to those who were there to support our climb.
There are several mentions of trees and giants in the English folklore and western mythology. Giants live on certain magical trees, protecting great treasures and endangering great heroes. Challenging the giants is not a physical act, but a trial of wit and courage.
Our own trees of knowledge are full of figures imbued with authority, claiming that some things are the way they are. Challenging these authorities we discover new paradigms and create new ideas. This is a dangerous, heroic art. We may be ridiculed all the way, especially if we fail. Yet it is something heroic and exciting.
The giant within
We all want to be stronger, more important, more confident. As we learn new things we may become self-absorbed and too much in love with the knowledge we discover. We might stop listening and looking for new knowledge. The giant within is not always a good thing.
Sometimes we should be capable of humility. Focusing on the small things rather than grandiose visions, we can find the limitations of our knowledge, and maybe discover something new. Too many people look for a grand success, fame, financial prosperity. These things are great, but they take our attention away from the things that really matter: the reason why we decided to learn in the first place, the simple love of friends and family, the comfort food that makes us feel better.
In many myths, gods fight giants and titans. Heroes venture up trees out or curiosity or to get some treasure, not to become giants and attack those who come after us. Unless we are talking about the friendly giants, parent-like creatures mentoring the heroes and protecting them when they are young.
When we use visualizations to remember things, we imbue them with very few details. Using the visualizations to change ourselves we apply very simple modifications to some common archetypes. Yet in this article, I tried to use the visualization for creativity. I demonstrate (hopefully successfully) how different visual associations allow us to pass between various worlds of knowledge and discover new thoughts. Similar shapes are visually linked, but they belong to very different worlds. Yet the similarity of archetypal shapes allows to pass between these worlds and bring interesting stories and ideas. We may learn for many reasons, yet with time we fall in love with what we learn. Eventually we learn enough to tell stories and teach others, help others discover their stories and enjoy the stories they tell. Maybe this is the ultimate form of the giant within.