We are not that different from a tree. As an analogy, trees breathe, have branches that resemble the branches of our lungs, and have tree rings much like a “fingerprint.” The seasons provide a recurring opportunity for nature to teach us. Changes in the wind often seem to usher in the change of seasons.
Do you notice how some branches break and fall to the ground, yet others remain? Join me for a few moments of anthropomorphism, will you? I wonder if the lesson here is “that which does not bend, breaks,” adapted from Aesop’s fable “The Oak and the Reeds.” Survival may rely on flexibility.
I try to practice mindfulness in daily life–noticing what I notice cloaked in an attitude of acceptance and dignity. On a walk through a local park with a lake, I notice how the leaves on deciduous trees change. I notice how the water of the lake willingly reflects the beauty of the leaves and sky. How do we reflect the beauty around us? How do we provide mirroring for our patients? How do we cultivate reflective functioning in ourselves and in our patients?
The leaves of the tree do not all change at the same time. In fact, each leaf does not change color all at the same time or in the same way or even with the same colors.
I wonder if process by which a leaf changes color is indicative of the natural change process. This observation has shaped my expectations about change. Perhaps it may offer hope to us and our patients when we struggle with our expectation about how and how fast change occurs.
As the winds shift the season from summer to fall, I wonder about the process of how leaves fall, or how they let go. I wonder about the very first leaf that falls from a tree. Is that the brave leaf, the impulsive leaf, or the careless leaf? I wonder about the last leaf to fall or that one leaf that clutches to the branch all winter long. Is that leaf…tenacious or resistant? The falling leaves foretell the closing of the year.
As a tree lets go of its leaves, more becomes visible. The structure of the tree itself reveals itself and perhaps a nest. The adaptation of the tree becomes evident by the twists and turns of the branches over the years to reach the sunlight.
How do we help our patients adjust to the environment to get their needs met? The light that was once filtered through leaves shines more brightly. The tree may draw energy inward now that it is relieved of maintaining leaves. So many of our patient are encumbered by painful life experiences and the imprint left behind. We work with them to clear the debris, to clear a path, so that they can breathe more deeply and see more clearly.
The tree, much like its human counterparts, exists in an environment which creates conditions that affect the unfolding of natural processes. For example, the amount of rain and the temperatures affect how soon, for how long, and how vibrant the changing of the leaves may be.
Each year is different, even though it is the same tree, bound in the same spot. I wonder about the impact of climate change on the character of the seasons. How might the elements of climate change conspire to mute the beauty deciduous trees promise?
There is a sense of security in the rhythm and ritual of the change of the season which climate change may disrupt. How might we respond to mitigate the impact of the disruption? Often in our work with patients we are encouraging them to balance acceptance and change. We work with them to hold the multiple truths, seemingly contradictory in nature and reluctant to reconcile.
Often our work with our patients involves witnessing them to become who they truly are relieved of the need for external validation. Each tree stands in its own glory without comparing itself to the other trees while embracing its contribution to the landscape. This becoming is a lifelong process where the trees remind us, each year, of the beauty of letting go, drawing inward, and renewing.
Dr. Mouratidis is a licensed clinical psychologist and a full tenured professor of psychology.