The Theosophical Society in America

Climbing Trees and Initiations

Originally printed in the January - February 2003 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bland, Betty. "Climbing Trees and Initiations." Quest  91.1 (JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2003):2-3.

By Betty Bland

Betty BlandI recently watched a man trimming tree limbs that overhang power lines. He works for the power company as the foreman of an off-road crew of workers who climb trees in wilderness areas where trucks cannot go. It is an amazing sight to see a grown man run up the side of a tree as if he were running up the stairs in his own home. What would seem an impossible task is not so hard when one has the right strength, skills, and tools such as shoe spikes, safety belt, and ropes and pulleys—besides, of course, the requisite power saw hanging from his belt.

I commented to him about his skill, and he replied that he was just getting really good at it. He has climbed trees this way for twenty years, twenty to twenty-five trees a day, five days a week. The performance that looked so easy became so only because of much hard work. He was not so skilled at first, but developed his prowess over time. Time is that universal commodity that carries us along our path. As this new year edges into our awareness, we note its entrance and naturally reflect on beginnings. Every beginning is an ending of something old as well as the commencement of something new. A beginning is a kind of initiation, one among the many that we experience in a lifetime. Some initiations are a function of time, such as our passage from youth to adulthood, and again into middle age and old age. Other initiations are a result of our successfully traversing the gauntlets that life presents to us. In fact, if we have committed ourselves to the spiritual path, life is one long series of initiations. Every trial and every problem to be solved are chances to learn and opportunities to pass the test. If we fail, we can be sure the problem will arise again in a new way, against which we can struggle and strengthen our ability to finally overcome. Somewhere among the daily lessons, we gain insight so that what might have seemed insurmountable becomes merely a pebble on the way.

Some people think that spiritual initiations can be bought and sold, or at least bestowed on believers through incantations or rituals. This is a ridiculous pandering to our prideful nature. The credulous want to know the exact number of initiations they have passed and their own level of attainment—to put them a notch above others. Not long ago someone told me that this life was the last time they would have to be born into this world, having already achieved the fourth initiation. I was impressed at how far advanced they indeed must be—and yet I saw them struggling with the same kinds of issues that dislodge my own self-installed halo.

Chutzpah of this kind afflicted some members of the Theosophical Society in the early decades of the last century. Unfortunately a number of new aspirants were so excited about the ideal of human progression and perfection that they became carried away with their own self-importance. Such hubris, among other things, prompted the adepts to command that this “cant of the masters” must be put down. Today I hope that we have reached a level of maturity that will help us avoid that pitfall. Why should I mention a tree-climber at the beginning of a discussion about initiations? Like the tree-climber, we have to work to develop our strengths, which are developed only through concerted effort. Life skills, spiritual will, and the critical tool of ego-less wisdom are not imposed on us from outside. They are hard won through serious introspection, mindful living, and acts of kindness. We have to do our homework. There may be certain events, influences, or people that catapult us into setting our evolutionary course, but it is the self-induced and self-devised efforts of each soul on its obligatory pilgrimage (as H. P. Blavatsky indicates in the third fundamental proposition of The Secret Doctrine) that finally win the prize.

The razor-sharp abilities required to become an adept, a superhuman on the higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder, are not easily gained, nor do they puff up one's own self-importance. Rather, they bring us through the wilderness to the treetop—to the ultimate goal of service:

There is a road , steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards there is reward past all telling—the power to bless and save humanity . . . . (HPB, Collected Writings 13:219)

As we move along in this new year, let us hone our skills for the service of others. Let us make this a year of true initiation.