A tree taught me about Coping
I distinctly remember an ah-ha moment that came to me while I walked an old path through a forest near my home. I noticed a tree that might have been 75 years old, in my estimation. Somehow, it had a hole right through its trunk, just above my eye level. In the late afternoon, the light of the sun shone directly through the tree and if I moved to the right place, I could stand in the path of the light. Despite this wound, which had healed beautifully, it was fully leafed and look quite healthy. I wondered about its story. How did this happen? How did it manage to survive? How did it go on to flourish?
The tree had learned how to cope.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary tell us that the word cope means, “to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties”. Coping was a key element of this tree’s healing.
I imagine that the tree focused on mending its wound. We might call this ‘self-care’. Instead of spending all its resources in developing more roots, or leaves, or thicker bark or seeds, it allowed nutrients and immune system defenses to rally at the place of the wound. It prioritized its wellbeing at this time of crisis.
This tree reminded me of Maya Angelou’s wise words, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
I think about the things that I have done at my time of crisis. What did I do to learn how to cope with new circumstances? How did I decide that I was going to not just cope, but move towards thriving?
I just let my emotion come in waves. I didn’t try to stop or bury or exaggerate my feelings. I let them wash over me. I created a garden. I walked in the woods. I read books. I talked to friends and family. I was surprised that I felt relief when I shared my story. I listened to the stories of others and took lessons from their experiences. It helped me to feel normal as pain and suffering was part of life, not unusual. Just like the tree already had innate mechanisms that helped it to heal, so must I.
Take your time
Upon examining the wound on the tree, I could see years worth of effort to overcome the wound as it incrementally found its way back to wellness. I imagine this was slow. So slow that it would be hard to see with the human eye if we were to sit and watch. This is true with healing a human soul as well. It may take a while and that’s okay. Others watching may not notice the healing that is taking place, but indeed it does. Relax and allow the pace to be natural for you. Slow down your mind, unbusy yourself and it will happen.
Look after your body
The tree took nourishment from the earth and sky. It didn’t forget to look after its basic needs and become distracted by its wound. This was a great contributor to its healing. As your mind works things through, don’t forget to look after your body. Proper rest, food and exercise will keep you strong enough to provide that extra energy you will need as you cope with stress. In times like these, it is easy to ignore your body’s request for attention, but it is paramount that you pay attention.
Studies have demonstrated that trees communicate. A wounded tree can ask for help, and they do. Through a microbial network, a tree will signal distress. Surrounding trees will respond by sharing resources to help the wounded tree revive. Friends and family are your network. They might offer a casserole, to walk your dog, to sit at your child’s soccer game, to listen over a glass of wine, to celebrate your loved one’s birthday with you, or to chat on the phone for an hour. They have love to give. If you can share a laugh about something, do it. The rush of endorphins will help your mood and your mind.
Stay on track
I’m sure my tree doesn’t use sticky notes, but I do. Maybe the seasons are the thing that keeps the tree organized to do the things it needs to do. When to leaf; when to take in nourishment; when to drop leaves; and when to rest. I found it necessary to write myself notes and ensure my calendar was reliable with the details that I needed to get from day to day. The extra effort to enter my tasks and meetings in this way gave me sanity during a tumultuous time. My sticky notes helped me to prioritize my tasks without forgetting the task altogether, which was easy to do. Sometimes I was even able to give a task to a loved one that wanted to help. Whatever tools work for you to sort this kind of stuff, be sure to stay on track. It will ease your mind.
For several years now, I have walked the path to visit that special tree. It signified a beautiful nature lesson. It became my reminder that my healing takes time, but it is worth the steady effort. With this healing, I would develop grit and resilience that helped me to eventually flourish again.
Connect with nature, one step at a time.
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