What we can learn about health from trees

Part of the work my clients and I do together is to define what is health for them.  While the answer is a little different for each person, a large part of it usually has to do with growth of some kind or another. If you imagine a tree, growth is a good marker of health.  It is the same with people. So, it is important to know what elements are needed for optimal growth. And, often what this boils down to is a balance of structure and flexibility.

Structure, for both trees and people provides our form (who we are) and our ability to get needs met. This is easier to visualize in a tree. Its leaves reach for sunlight, and roots reach for nutrients; this forms an effective strategy for how to get nourishment.  However, a tree also needs to have a certain strength or form so that it can protect itself from the demands of the environment. For example, it needs to keep out pests and or even survive being hit with a Frisbee.

Like trees, human beings need a certain amount of internal or personal structure. We might think of this as a sense of self.  We need to know who we are and have some idea of how we might respond to certain things. This helps us to develop strategies for getting our needs met. However, it also helps us to withstand the demands of our environment. When we know who we are we are better able to stay true to ourselves when we face pressure from the outside world. Without this, we would always do whatever others told us we to should do.  We would likely feel a slave to others needs and desires.

However, strength without any flexibility leaves both trees and people rigid and brittle.  Just as a tree needs to be able to move and flow with the wind, people need to be able to adapt to change and show up in the world in multiple ways. We may need to be confident at work, comforting to our children, and playful with our partner or friends. If we are too rigid or too certain of who we are we cannot change and adapt to our changing environment. Without this we are left feeling that we don’t know how to meet our needs without becoming someone else.

Of course we don’t go out into the world and decide we are going to be rigid or formless.  Like trees, we are products of our environment. We may have natural tendencies toward one or the other, but in an ideal environment we would find perfect balance.

However, most of us don’t grow up (or live) in the ideal environment.  Often we live in places that demand too much of one or the other of us.  If you have ever been to the Oregon Coast, you can visualize what growing in a demanding environment can do for trees. Trees that grow near the coast are often leaning to one side.  Also, they often don’t have needles on the side facing the ocean, all as a result of the demands of the environment. This is the very best the tree can do in its surroundings.

So like those trees, we develop strategies that work the best possible in our original environment to protect ourselves and to get our needs met.  If we are in a family that is demanding of us and does not deal well when we are hurt or need something, we will learn not to express those feelings and how to not need others. What happens for many of us is that when we go out into the world, is the strategies that we know are limiting or sometimes just don’t work in our current environment.  This can make us feel that there is something wrong with us, or people in our life.

But the good news is that humans are far more adaptable than trees, whose initial growth is cannot be changed. We can learn to express more parts of ourselves, or to better recognize our inner strength.  We can learn how to have more balance and to find more health in our lives.


For additional information:

How to be more of your whole self: http://www.mauricounseling.com/blogs/2016/2/2/the-power-of-and

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