By Jason Markel
Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
In Gold River and Loomis
September 15, 2020
Spiritual Teachings of Trees:
Be Strong But Flexible
“The tree is one of humankind’s most powerful symbols. It is the embodiment of life in all its realms: the point of union between heaven, earth and water.” – Rev. Lisa Ward
In a benediction, Reverend Lisa Ward shared spiritual wisdom about trees saying,
“The presence of trees articulates that when one is well grounded, centered in one’s roots, healthy growth and flexibility in change comes from generosity of spirit, the giving of oneself. The willow giving over to wind, fruit and nut trees giving of their produce, leaves giving over to winter and decay for future growth. The way we can sustain ourselves is by giving of ourselves when we are centered. The secret to abundance, the key to stop seeking more and more is to focus on what we have to give. What Alice Walker calls the circular energy of generosity. By giving we stimulate regeneration of life and spirit and it stimulates our own growth, our own expanse. Trees tell us this. Just as each tree has its own particular gift to offer, so do each of us.”
I have been drawn to trees for many years.
One of the things I love most about living in the Sacramento area is the abundance of redwood trees. My current home has 4 majestic redwood trees just behind my property line that I look at every day, and I naturally feel myself breathe a little deeper, and experience a moment of grounding and gratitude every time I look out at them. The previous home I lived in (Palm Springs, CA) faced the San Jacinto mountains, and my condo was flanked with palm trees. I often sat in my backyard, looking up at the palm trees as they rustled in the winds and felt a calm, soothing sensation take over as I focused up at the palm fronds swaying. Thinking back many years, I started noticing that while taking my dog on a walk, I found myself leaning my back up against a tree and “connecting” with it. I couldn’t explain why I was engaging in this behavior, I only knew that I was drawn to do it.
I think I have always loved trees. They are protective, grounding, and giving. They give their fruit for us to eat. They provide us with wood to use and even to claim as a status symbol (Mahogany table anyone?). Trees give us paper to write on and provide shade in an otherwise sun drenched yard, and let’s not forget those gorgeous New England trees that give us beautiful fall foliage that people travel from miles around to enjoy. What am I forgetting? Oh ya, They help clear our air! Trees are magical, sacred, majestic and giving. So what can we learn from them?
Years ago I came across an analogy that has stuck with me for probably twenty years that I often use with clients about the benefits of being flexible in life.
Oak vs. Bamboo
The mighty oak tree, strong and proud. The strength of its solid branches and the grip of its roots are one of nature’s enduring displays of fortitude, stability and power. Yet, wherever oak trees are, after a decent storm one can almost always drive around and see oak tree branches snapped off, broken by the force of the wind.
Beautiful, lush bamboo also rooted well into the earth (if you’ve ever tried to remove any you know what I mean) is also an incredibly durable, strong wood but it has a key difference from that of the oak, it is flexible. When the great storm comes, it bends with torrential winds, mimicking water as it surges down a river canyon and around the rocks. When the unyielding oak is challenged, it often breaks. When the softer bamboo is challenged, it bends and accepts the force of the wind, working with it, not against it and ultimately not breaking.
Its Important To Be Flexible
Being sturdy is a good quality, it is often comforting to those around us, but there are probably more times in our lives when we would benefit from being flexible and soft, working with life not against it. I am reminded of a reading from the works in “The Big Book” of AA that says “…acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation, some fact of my life unacceptable to me and can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”. The bamboo accepts that life is rough at times and moves with it, the oak resists and breaks.
How can we apply this to everyday life? Well, it is a rather unprecedented time in our country as we navigate handling Covid-19 and all the countless ways it has impacted our lives. Many of us are working from home now and sometimes (or most of the time) cramped and jockeying for a little extra space, or less noise so we can be heard on our Zoom conference while juggling our kids’ education plans, spouse or whatever the case may be. Or maybe it’s something like having lost our job. No matter how difficult the situation, there is a lesson in the flexibility of the bamboo. You need to be strong, yes. Bamboo is strong, but it is not rigid. Where can you be more flexible in your life? Where can you be a little softer? Maybe it’s even about being softer on yourself. Stress levels are incredibly high right now and being flexible with your thoughts is more beneficial now than ever before as we traverse these unfamiliar waters of shelter-in-place life. Being rigid gets us nowhere except eventually broken.
About The Author
Jason Markel is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly 20-years’ experience in social services and the counseling field. Currently he works at Authentic Counseling Associates in Gold River, CA and Heartstrings Counseling in Loomis, CA. Jason brings a wide array of professional experience to his work, including 4-years’ service in the U.S.A.F at The Pentagon. Ever the humanistic man, Jason embraces a wide variety of therapeutic approaches, but most vitally he strives for a deep, authentic connection with his clients. In his free time, he and his husband enjoy quality time with their 6 god-kids and their goofy, lovable young dog.
Ward, L. (2000) Spirituality of Trees. https://www.uufhc.net/sermons/s001105.html
W., Bill. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous : the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. New York :Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,