Every year on January 1st I go for a walk. I write down the first twelve things I see that seem significant – things that leave an impression, then I flesh out my impressions in my journal and use each one as an inspiration for the coming months.
Laugh if you will – this exercise is extremely powerful – and surprisingly accurate.
Last year’s impression for December involved a huge tree in my neighborhood. It stood at least fifty-feet tall, so it’d been around a while. All summer long it had been densely covered with leaves, but on January first the leaves were gone, and only in the dead of winter could you see the way the branches twisted and turned during a life filled with adversity.
I have long been inspired by trees, and I began to wonder once again about these long-lived, often ignored and almost forgotten members of the world around us. So I came across a book called “The Hidden Life of Trees” which gave as its premise, the idea that trees are social beings that form communities, share nutrients, nurture and protect one another through a complex network of communication that includes sound waves, vibrations, and feelings.
Written by a forestry management expert from Germany, the book is a fascinating exploration into the ‘thought patterns’ and growth strategies of this ancient species that has surrounded our planet for thousands of years. Although it seems like a metaphysical load of you-know-what, years of observation, experimentation, and plenty of science backs the ideas contained within its pages. One particular section talks about how a tree grows so slowly and how painful growth can be.
This speaks to me. I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime already adding rings, and yet I still feel as if a strong wind could bend me over.
What I’ve come to realize though, is that bending isn’t breaking. Bending is strengthening.
“The process of learning stability is triggered by painful micro-tears that occur when the trees bend way over in the wind, first in one direction, and then in the other.”
This reminds me of yoga and a pose called half-moon. It took me many months of practice before I could hold this asana for a full minute on each side.
“Wherever it hurts, that’s where the tree must strengthen its support structure. That takes a whole lot of energy, which is then unavailable for growing upward.”
Months of sweating and breathing through the pain, stretching and strengthening the muscles needed not only to reach over, but also to maintain a strong core while doing so. One of the core values of yoga is form over function. It’s not how far you reach, it’s how far you reach while maintaining proper form. Only then will you develop the right muscles to hold you up without further injury.
Sometimes the stretching and bending are the painful parts of growth, but if the tree decided to skip a step and grow taller without developing those support structures, a strong wind would surely damage the tree, maybe even kill it. Repairing those micro-tears and building ‘muscle’ is much easier for the tree when it’s smaller and stronger. We can learn life lessons from our woody friends.
Growth is a process, and it rarely comes without pain, but not all pain is bad.
Like so many things in life, the journey is much more important than the destination. The process teaches us that growth means taking it slow. It teaches survival. Conservation. Adaptation. And maybe most importantly, resilience.
You can bend without breaking.
Even in strong winds.