Tree of Life Wall Tapestry

Trees have long been seen as sources of eternal wisdom and/or supernatural healing. Folklore often suggest trees are ladders or provide branches between this world and other dimensions. Located on Fulufjället Mountain, Sweden and standing barely sixteen feet tall, the oldest known living tree is a Norway spruce called Old Tjikko. Pictured below, its root system is approximately 9,550 years old. Named after Methuselah an ancestor of Noah, who is said to have lived 969 years in the Christian bible, the second oldest continuously standing tree is a 4,854-year-old Great Basin bristlecone pine located in  the White Mountains, California. Most of the major cultures around the world have fables about trees imbued with transcendent knowledge, such as the Bodhi or sacred fig tree Buddha sat under until he reached enlightenment. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam each have references about Adam and Eve eating forbidden fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden, named the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Knowledge and the Immortal Tree, respectively. The Tree of Life is mentioned in many cultures and religions with various definitions such as: immortality, the love of the divine, the place where heaven meets earth, and the place where duality does not exist. Linking wisdom with longevity and the nourishing nature of trees to human sustenance, spiritual growth and transformation is universal. Perhaps these parables and branches of theology are attempting to explain or define aspects of a universal spiritual concept…pay it forward.

Earth’s Natural Internet

In the nineteenth century the German biologist, Albert Bernard Frank noticed that ninety percent of land plants had beneficial relationships with fungi. In 2008, a fungus expert named Paul Stamets termed this plant/fungus relationship Earth’s Natural Internet. Biologists now know trees, with fungal assistance, collectively manage resources, communicate with one another, and keep each other alive. Some call this symbiotic/communication system the Wood Wide Internet.[1] Trees offer countless gifts to every living creature by providing food, shelter, and medicinal products. We build homes, warm our bones, and fill our bellies with the fruits from trees. Spectacular names, such as the Tree of Life, have been given to mesquite, for example, to describe and honor its numerous nurturing qualities. A living example of generosity, trees benefit every living creature by paying love forward.

A Greek proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Penned in 317 BCE, a playwright from ancient Greece named Menander is credited with being the original writer introducing the concept of paying it forward in his play, Dysklos. Benjamin Franklin revived the philosophy, in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 25, 1784, when he wrote:

“I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”

Dorothy of Oz

In 1989 Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of Frank Baum, continued the Wizard of Oz series when he wrote about “talking trees” in his book, Dorothy of Oz. During this new adventure, Dorothy, her companions, and the trees employ a pay love forward philosophy, which produced more enlightened outcomes for everyone. In this fairy tale, Dorothy and her companions need a boat to visit Glinda the Good. After consulting with Wiser the Owl, Dorothy and her companions visit the Talking Trees living by the Munchkin River to procure a boat. Initially the trees are afraid of the Tin Woodsman and his axe, but an agreement is made after respectful negotiations by accessing their shared principles and values. Each tree volunteers to donate one limb apiece and the whole tree grove assists Dorothy and the China Doll Princess to design a talking boat named Tugg. The Talking Trees pay love forward so Dorothy and her companions can rescue Toto and never ask for repayment. They co-experience aspects of Dorothy’s adventure because Tugg is constructed from talking tree lumber.

In Dorothy of Oz, Tugg saves Toto, and his experiences are communicated to the Talking Trees. Acts of service such as paying love forward allows us to incorporate our principles and values, watch others receive grace or relief while we experience an aspect of oneness. In Oz, pay it forward principles allowed Dorothy and her companions, even if completely unaware, to have a sense of something greater benefiting all at work. Everything seems to go easier when we are lovingly connected to others, which could in fact become a world wide web of gratitude if we allow it. Imagine if all our loving deeds compounded exponentially and provided dividends for all? Is this possible? They say the only thing we take with us when we die is the love we experienced and shared. If that is true, wouldn’t our loving deeds continue to compound after we cross over? Consider the possibility that every loving deed keeps on giving because the appreciation received is tracked by our soul and gathers interest, which Benjamin Franklin might have termed “enjoyment royalties” in his almanac. This wonderful “trick” of paying love forward does a great deal of good with little effort, as he aptly pointed out

In his Symposium Plato said, “He whom Love touches not walks in darkness.”[2] Dark begets darkness and light and love begets more of the same. If all the fabled Talking Trees and Trees of Life, which have existed through all of history were asked to offer timeless wisdom about paying love forward, those trees, I suspect, would offer the following advice:

Stand strong like a sturdy tree and embody your principles and values even when nothing is working during life’s storms. Ignoring your instinct to love causes pain, isolation, and feelings of abandonment. Embrace life fully no matter what your circumstances and invite the sun and wind into your being every day. Open your heart, experience life’s pleasures, and express your fondest dream. Relish the birds singing in your branches because they attract life’s bounty to you. Be a pillar of light and remind others of their divinity. Marvel when beings want to spend their whole life near and around you. Become a shelter for others and you’ll find your heart bursting from the love directed towards you. Your joy and love will create mirrors of the same, attracting love to you like ants under a picnic tree. Love is the alpha and omega of life that opens the doors to the secrets of the universe and the mysteries of life after life because it’s woven into the fabric of your very soul.

April 28th is Pay It Forward Day.

Many authors have written about this concept and in 2000 a major motion picture, Pay It Forward, was made from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book of the same name. Pay it forward days and international pay it forward foundations keep the concept alive today. Taking inspiration from author Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay It Forward movement, Blake Beattie started Pay It Forward Day in 2007 as a celebration of how one small act of kindness can make a big impact in the world. After beginning in Australia, the holiday now spreads love and happiness in over 85 countries. It may only last 24 hours, but we hope Pay It Forward Day inspires you and your community to stand for kindness all year long!

        On April 28, don’t just do kindness, live it!       

[1] Nic Fleming, “Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus” (2014), accessed at

[2] Plato, Symposium, 23.