The tree of life is just outside… “
— this sentence emerged in my mind simply as a painting suggestion. It happens sometimes in the painting process — a thought pattern, an inner verbal gesture, which is perceived as subtle guidance (not a deliberate decision).
I was feeling my way into a new painting, a painting quite unlike anything I had done before.
(So new is this painting that it is not willing to be shared, not yet. It still needs to stay in the space of my aloneness, away from the public eye, from the relentless pull of social media…. Just this detail.)
There was a place for the tree of life in this painting — the mythical tree from the Garden of Eden. The insight was that I can paint this tree from life, just looking out of my studio window: the tree of life is just outside.
And that’s what I did — but the sentence kept playing itself in my mind, returning again and again, as though there were something else it was pointing to, something else to see and comprehend.
“The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life” — Lord Byron
The tree-of-life story has been living in my mind for many years, and I always believed it to be a collective, shared story, known to all. But although there is a multitude of tree-of-life stories in the collective memory, yet neither of them seem to coincide with mine, not precisely.
I must have picked up the seed of this story in the eclectic cultural background of my childhood, conflating bits and pieces from Judaic, Eastern Orthodox and Greek stories and tropes. And it has been evolving ever since, barely rising above the threshold of my conscious awareness — until it brought me to this painting, and to the tree just outside my studio window.
There are, of course, two trees in this story — the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life: from the original state of primal innocence, a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge makes you truly human, and a fruit from the Tree of Life, divine.
Both trees are forbidden to Adam and Eve, so eating an apple is an act of freedom and heroic defiance (I never paid much attention to the snake, it didn’t seem significant): not only have they tasted a fruit from a forbidden tree, but they choose humanity over divinity, knowledge over immortality (just like Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods).
And so begins the story of humanity, the story of suffering and self-reliance, the story of freedom and separation, and the insatiable desire to comprehend everything.
Freedom beyond choices
I have never doubted the wisdom of this original choice… For one thing, who would want to turn into someone who forbids knowledge to others? But more than that, there is no freedom without choices… or is there?
It feels as though this is what this sentence, “the tree of life is just outside”, points me to, a state of freedom beyond choices… As though both trees are always here, and you don’t have to choose one to be free. It reminds me of what Giordano Bruno once wrote, so many years ago (and yet so recently, in the grand scheme of things):
The world is fine as it is… We have the knowledge not to search for divinity removed from us if we have it near; it is within us more than we ourselves are.”
The tree of life is just outside…