RESPONSIVENESS (6/10, Blessing of the Trees)

A tree is a creature of both the earth and the sky. Rooted, it spends its entire life in one spot. Yet, despite its stationary nature, it is anything but rigid. On the contrary, in the presence of even the slightest breeze, it bends, sways, and even speaks! Think of the tree sounds we love: whispering rustles, ebbing and flowing, near then far: nature’s soothing white noise! And the sights that mesmerize: golden aspen leaves shimmering, almost twinkling, in the sun. Have you ever looked up at tall trees being moved by the wind? Reminds me of the passage below from Isaiah. Can’t you just see them clapping their hands in slow-mo praise?

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12 NIV

Sometimes a young tree planted in an urban or park setting will be staked to make sure that it grows up straight. And holding it still and vertical until its roots have a chance to grow enough to take over the job is in fact helpful. But a tree that remains staked for too long will eventually not only be injured by the constricting wires, but will actually become more unstable and vulnerable to being toppled by a forceful gust. A tree needs to dance with the wind in order to grow strong.

Often we humans mistake rigidity for strength. And indeed, to resist feels powerful. To have the highest expectations of oneself and others feels superior. And to refuse to compromise feels virtuous. But take it from a recovering perfectionist who identifies with a staked tree, that kind of thinking can eventually cause a nose-dive. In my case, I pushed myself with such unrelenting standards (e.g., I must answer every question or request at my job promptly and thoroughly, meet every challenge, project and deadline, and constantly become more efficient with my time so that I can get more done, and enough is never enough) that eventually, I basically broke my health and couldn’t work at all for a period. While I was flat on my back, wondering if this was the end of my career, I realized that something had to change. I couldn’t keep on the way I had been going. This blog chronicles my recovery from that uprooting, which has included learning to figuratively dance, to gracefully dip and sway in response to what life brings, to practice creativity, spiritual and personal deep dives, and communing with nature.


from the solidity of that thick trunk

my eyes lift to limbs and fingers

swaying and dancing in the wind

flexible and sensitive to the merest stir of air

a rebuke to brittle notions of obstinacy

from The Blessing of the Trees

I remember as a girl how I could nimbly climb trees. Once, on a dare, I jumped to the ground from an unprecedented height, and my only injury was that I whacked my head hard on my own knees, ha! At my age now, I wouldn’t be able to climb that tree without a ladder, to start with, and if I jumped, I would be at much greater risk of bone fracture. Why? Because people’s bones become more brittle as we age. Our ligaments, joints, and spinal disks have less “give” than they used to have, so we are more prone to injury. And if we do get injured, it takes longer to recover than it used to, and we are at greater risk of staying “stuck” with some sort of disability. In other words, flexibility is a sign of health and resilience, not weakness.

It’s the same in so many other areas of our lives besides the physical. We can get “stuck” in emotions like anxiety, depression, anger or negativity. We can be enslaved by addictions or obsessive behaviors. We can have a rigid mind that categorizes people into stereotypes or prejudices, that denies evidence that contradicts our set beliefs, that resists change of any kind. We can also stay trapped in dysfunctional relationships and find it difficult to let go or renegotiate changing personal and family connections.

A tree needs to dance with the wind
in order to grow strong.

But there is another way. Like a tree that bends in the breath of God, that lets go of its leaves in the fall, we can accept reality, not as we insist it must be, but as it actually is. We can learn to simply breathe and be where we are, feeling the breeze on our face, listening to the rustling of the leaves. We can accept the emotions that we feel right now. Allow them to be, and sit with them until they soften. We can do something we know will be good for us. Like go for a walk. Call a friend. Do something kind for someone else. Learn something new. Try doing something creative. (See my 5-part art blogs for ideas.) Connect with God. Seek out nature. Embrace change and see what treasure it may hold.

Next post: PERSISTENCE (7/10, Blessing of the Trees)

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