How to Be Like a Tree: Still, Strong, and Uniquely Beautiful

Written by on May 11, 2019 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 0 Comments

 

Image Credit: Tiny Buddha

By Meredith Walters | Tiny Buddha

“This oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.” ~Carl Sagan

I was hugging trees long before it was cool.

Recent research suggests that spending time in nature can reduce your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress level, not to mention cut down your risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.

But when I began hugging trees, it was an undeniably weird thing to do.

I risked the odd looks of strangers, however, because trees felt so calm and welcoming to me. When I wrapped my arms around their broad trunks, it felt like I was being gathered into the protective embrace of a beloved elder, as if their steadfastness imparted strength, and their rootedness helped me find my own solid ground.


Recently, however, I’ve realized that their benefits extend far beyond momentary stress relief; it’s from trees that I’ve learned the most powerful lessons about how to deal with chronic depression and anxiety.

Here are the biggest and most unexpected things I’ve learned so far from trees:

1. When in doubt, don’t do.

Every time I hug a tree, I’m struck by how still it is. There’s a silence, a spaciousness, and a total lack of movement that boggles my mind.

I mean, it can’t be easy to be a tree. If you’re not getting enough sunlight, you can’t just pick up and walk a few steps to the right. If some animal builds its home too close to your roots, you can’t do anything to move it.

I, on the other hand, respond to any perceived threat by jumping into action. That’s the nature of my anxiety; when I’m afraid, I want to do something—anything.

But because I’m not acting out of clarity or wisdom, and because listening to fear makes the fear grow stronger, almost every action I take just makes things worse.

Like the time when I was anxious about leaving my therapist because I was about to move back to Atlanta after fifteen years away. Jumping into action, I decided to go off my anti-depressant medication before I left so I would have her help, but I did it at a time when I was also changing careers, starting a business, and getting ready to move cross-country. Needless to say, it made a difficult time even harder for me.

When I don’t get the results that I want, I feel even more out of control, my anxiety grows—along with my compulsion to act—and the negative cycle reinforces itself.

Trees show me how to break this cycle by demonstrating the value of not doing.

When I’m smart enough to imitate a tree, I get still. I feel. I listen.

When I do this for long enough, one of three things happens: Either the problem resolves itself, or a wise response becomes clear to me, or I realize that it wasn’t really a problem in the first place.

2. Support all of life.

I’m often awed by how much trees give to the creatures around them, from the moss that grows on their bark, to the birds and squirrels they feed and shelter, to the humans who breathe their oxygen and enjoy their shade.

When I’m depressed and anxious, I usually feel both overwhelmed by my own misery and guilty that I don’t have the resources to give more to others.

It’s another negative cycle whereby my misery makes me unable to focus on anything or anybody else, which causes me to feel horribly self-centered, which makes me feel even more wretched and less able to give. What makes things even worse is that supporting others is one of the few things I’ve found that reliably helps me feel better.

The effortless generosity of trees offers a way out.

When trees have something to give, they share it with everyone, no matter how small or undeserving. But they don’t beat themselves up for not having acorns in the spring, or leaves in the winter. They simply extend whatever’s there to extend.

Sometimes all I have to give is an apology for not being more considerate. Other times it’s a smile, or appreciation for someone’s support. Over time, if I give what I have, I have more to give, but the key is never to believe that it should be more than it is.

That way, I can support all life, including my own.

3. Don’t be afraid to get big.

I’ve never been one to take up too much space.

I’m talking physically: I’m over six feet tall and always felt awkward jutting up above most of the people around me, so I subconsciously slouched and made myself smaller.

But I’m talking emotionally and relationally as well: I never used to like to call attention to myself, ask for what I needed, or speak up about my opinions. I went out of my way not to negatively impact anybody else, even if that meant sacrificing my own happiness or well-being.

After years of always making other people’s needs and opinions more important than my own, it was hard not to feel depressed, helpless, and hopeless. By that point, however, making myself small wasn’t so much a choice as a well-ingrained habit.

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