The analogy of the tree came to me at a time when I was struggling to free myself from endless thoughts and mindless chatter caused by my fear of what others might think about me and how they might label my work: my mothering, creative pursuits and spiritual journey.
Will they think my work is too introspective? Too dark? To deep? Not deep enough compared to work I’ve done in the past? Out of my reach or meant for someone who is more of a professional? Too different than their path? Too constantly up and down because of my fluctuating emotional or mental state? Or maybe that I start too many projects that rob me of valuable time from my kids? Sometimes the anxiety would fuel my efforts to work harder to stay true to myself and sometimes it would cripple me with fear that would manifest as depression.
It was in one of these moments of spiraling thoughts that I had the distinct thought come to my mind that I needed to completely let go of my fears, all of which I was sure were probably untrue anyway, and trust the light within me. But I didn’t know how to do that. Almost immediately in response to my questions about how to do that, came to my mind the image of a tree.
The tree was neither old nor young and held a perfect stillness within itself. I suppose that maybe I saw that tree as I am now—and how long to be.
As I pondered more on the stillness of the tree I started to appreciate just how much of a guide it could be to me, not just in helping me still my racing mind, but in other very important ways. And what has been even more interesting is how the analogy of the tree, in looking back over my life, actually feels more like a wise, old parable that was just waiting patiently for me to discover it when I needed it most.
A tree, like me, started as a small seed. The perfect conditions to give life to that seed had to happen in order for that seed to start growing, much like the process I am sure my spirit went through in order to be born when I was, and into the home that I was born into.
I was nurtured from a young age to acknowledge the light within me that would teach me about who I was and what I am to become. But like the uncertainty a seed might experience starting out life in the dark soil before it reaches the light above ground, I too had to put great faith in the things I was taught by my parents long before I understood what they really meant for me.
We were a church-attending family, but mental and emotional ups and downs, hard family experiences and naive understandings of divine truths, often challenged what I was being taught at home and church. But much like the roots of a tree searching diligently in the dark for life savings minerals and a true source of living water, those times of questioning beliefs and deeper study of the principles and doctrines of the gospel actually helped me dig my roots far enough to find the nourishment I needed to continue growing in my faith.
I have only realized recently that the strength that I found by purposefully digging in my roots during moments of trials, doubt and figurative droughts, is what actually strengthened the core of my being, much like the roots strengthen the trunk of a tree, which then carries the nourishment upward to the branches that will extend themselves outward to produce and bear the weight of its fruit.
But there is even more to learn from the trunk.
The intrinsic beauty of the trunk of a tree, the ever cracking bark (read: wise, old wrinkles) and the ever growing inner rings of a tree have always fascinated me. I love the idea that the strength of a tree actually grows from the inside out, ever present in its growing rings that form beneath its bark each season. These rings not only show the age of the tree, but are also like the notes of a historian or a devout student of nature in the way trees preserve knowledge from season to season. Their inner rings record evidence of drought and floods, insect attacks, lightning strikes, earthquakes and more that have helped us learn about the past and prepare for the future by diligently and deeply drinking from the soil.
It is in the symbolism of the trunk that I am reminded that as a mother I need to first nourish and grow myself by diligently and deeply drinking from the soil, so that I can have the core strength to nurture the fruit I am meant to create.
The trunk’s rings also teach me that it is wise to take time to strengthen my mind by studying the world around me, so that I can pass along knowledge that will help my kids and others learn about the past and prepare for the future. I love the imagery that this knowledge will build within me line upon line, or rather, circle within circle, throughout my life.
I can also appreciate that in order to produce good fruit a tree must also be willing to be served. In many ways, a tree is perfectly provided for by sun, rain and soil, which is used to fill the fruit with vitamins, minerals, and water. Some might even suggest that fruits are filled with light and energy that is passed along to those who eat it. Why not? The thought makes me happy… and who can stay that an orange doesn’t look like the sun when cut in half or that it doesn’t give you energy? Because it does. And energy is what we are all made of, so I like that theory.
Another blissful example of a tree receiving service is its dependence on bees. The bees play a huge part in giving and receiving through the exchange of pollen and nectar which enable the fruit to grow. And by doing their part in serving the trees, and so much more, they get to reap the rewards that then make honey, which we all get to enjoy!
We can actually glean some wisdom in how a tree manages the fruit. The tree creates the fruit and nurtures it until it is ripe, but does not do the harvesting, preserving, canning, market sharing, grocery shopping, dinner prep and dish washing by herself. She also isn’t worried about what others will think if her ripe fruit drops from her branches before it can be harvested. She isn’t worried about whether her fruit will be used for a healthy snack or a dessert. Or whether it is fed to a cow or a horse, or used for target practice.
In this way, a tree does not run faster than she is able because she has learned to be still in all the seasons of birth and renewal, active growing turned to harvest, and doesn’t guilt herself during a season of rest, nor does she grow her fruit before its season. And she observes all of this without any judgement for what is done after she has done her part.
Of course those seasons don’t come without struggles, but come they must, and with an open heart they come with some wise gifts. They come with the gift of strength gained from withstanding the storms; perfected patience for the process of growing life; humble gratitude for days of warming sunlight; and reverence for the cleansing rain that pours down from the heavens. It’s beautiful.
A tree simply does her part, receives from the goodness of life around her and then lets go…
Time will tell if this tree will continue to grow with me, as will the stillness that I am starting to feel inside. And although this tree seemed to only appear in the moment I needed her, my soul has witnessed to me that she has always been with me and that she will never leave me. I am beginning to feel so certain of the tree I was designed to grow into, while growing more confident in the light that has always been within me and will always be part of me.
Trusting the stillness over the noise of our fears is a challenge, but what will come from that stillness is a sure heart, wise and strong, to accomplish all that God has sent us here to do.WendySantiano.com