Those of you who know me, or have been following my ramblings for a while, will know that once upon a time I grew and managed trees. My first career was in forestry. It took me a while (18 years) to realise I was better at growing people than trees (!) and to leave the Forestry Commission to set up my own coaching practice, but I still use a lot of what I learned from trees in my work and life today.
As I mentioned in my last post, metaphors are powerful ways for us to articulate and crystallise our own inner wisdom, and for me trees are a perfect representation of what I have learned and know about how to thrive and be happy in life, so let me tell you a little story:
There once was a young oak tree, growing strong and tall by the edge of the wood.
It enjoyed its position here, where it had space to grow, yet was close enough to the other trees to feel their support and connection. Because the oak was strong and thriving, it was able to give a good life to the host of animals, birds and insects that relied on it for food and shelter.
The tree drew fully on the abundant resources available to it. It aligned its leaves to capture the most from the sunlight. It soaked good nutrients and water from the soil and sent its roots down deep to give it all it needed.
It never took what it had for granted, and adjusted its demands to suit the circumstances; in drier summer, the oak slowed its growth. And each autumn, with the fall of leaves, the tree gave back some of what was taken, sustaining life all round.
The tree knew the necessity of the cycle of day and night, and of the seasons.
It relished the burst of energy in spring, the full richness of summer, the gathering, slowing and harvesting of autumn and the dormant rest of winter. Each was needed for the oak to thrive and reach its full magnificent potential. It knew it would soon spend all its strength, be spindly weak and dying if it tried to keep growing without pause.
Storms and harsh weather would come, and go. Sometimes the wind blew so strong the tree would be hurt, losing branches and leaves. But the tree was well rooted, and able to flex and sway with the winds – an acceptance not resistance, because it knew the wind obeyed no-one and could not be controlled; resistance would only bring yet more pain. And even if a branch was lost, the tree could heal – it wore its scars with pride.
It enjoyed the sunshine, but also the rain; the cold frosts let it know of the seasons change – sharp warning of what’s to become. Each has its part, neither right nor wrong, good nor bad – all that mattered was what the tree made of it.
The oak stood sure, and became what it could be. It did not look at the slim grey ash, the graceful beech or towering fir and envy them for what they had. They were what they were and it was what it was – an oak; no more, no less.
And as the oak aged, grew gnarled and old, it lost its grace, but gained in majesty. The creatures it could support changed and multiplied – revelling in this sentinel of the woods.
Even as it declined and decayed, it brought new life to others and when finally one day the storm came that brought the oak crashing to the forest floor, leaving the astonishment of sky in the gap where it once stood, in some way it lived on still; a legacy of wood to feed a fire, to build a stool, a stick to lean on, or just dead wood on which birds and insects continued to feed, live and thrive.
So tell me, what kind of a tree are you?