I’m 41 years old, and this is the first time I’ve heard this lovely phrase. Referenced in the 1982 book Under Whose Shade, it is originally inspired by an anonymous Greek proverb that reads as follows:
A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit in
This is obviously great advice for pretty much anyone. It seems particularly poignant for most captains of industry and politicians, many of which appear single-mindedly concerned with the next financial quarter or election cycle. But I would argue that this elegant saying is most valuable for those who are consciously seeking out a more mindful approach to life.
The reason I feel this way is simple; most if not all people – including myself – often get caught up in what a more mindful existence can do for them, either in the here and now or in the long run.
But you can’t have mindfulness without compassion. And you can’t have compassion if you’re busy thinking about yourself.
It’s ok. We all do it. Our DNA instructs to do so. And who are we to blow against the winds of natural selection?
But in some sense, this is what mindfulness is all about; becoming aware of our tendency to make it all about ourselves, then stepping out of that mental framework – if even for just a fleeting moment – so we can set about cultivating trees.