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Posted by Michael Finkelstein | September 3rd, 2018

What Trees can Teach Us About Life

Ever since I was a little boy, I was fascinated by trees. I remember this became painfully obvious to me after a hurricane hit Long Island where I grew up. There was this Weeping Willow in my backyard that I loved to climb that came down in the storm. I remember going up to it after it had fallen, speaking with it as tears rolled down my cheeks. I was young and up to then had not suffered any major losses that I could recall. I actually was grief stricken. After my little ceremony was completed, I broke off one of its sweet branches and kept it for a while as a token of the life I had known.

And, here is a picture of me as a young man, up a tree in Africa. My attachment to trees is still very much a part of who I am. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is for me to be in their presence.

Now, as I have gotten older, I’ve considered many of the elements of tree life that fascinate me; least of which is their role in maintaining our precious ecosystem, producing oxygen for all that breathe, and providing structure and support for life above and below the ground. Indeed, the alarming loss of the tree mass on this planet is threatening our very survival. But, there is more. Trees not only are life giving, but they are life affirming. As individuals, they teach us about what it takes to endure the shifting winds, the conditions that are always and will always be in a process of change. Of course, some trees do this better than others. As for my friend, the weeping willow, his roots were shallow. But, the mighty oaks and the many other trees that have withstood the storms of many seasons past show us that when roots are deep, the strongest winds are no match.

If I may, let me now connect this thought process to your health. Many of you are passionate about this subject and work hard to identify the “right” approach. I am with you here, and understand the draw. But, for some, particularly the more intense among us, the “holistic sect” I’ll call them, the interest in diets, exercise and managing stress, which leads to countless hours of research and a multitude of decisions and choices, can verge on a form of neurosis. Living life with lists of dos and don’ts seems odd to me, and maybe beside the point. Going back to the tree metaphor, there is really no problem with pruning a little bit. But, if one is disproportionately focused on the outer layers, one may remove too much vital material.

There is a deeper wisdom, literally, the understanding that our roots deserve the major focus; for strong roots will serve us best in the long run…. a period of time, I’d submit, that goes well beyond our years walking on the earth. In fact, the root mass I am referring to here is founded on those that walked before us in large part. It is this that deserves more of our attention — anchoring oneself in that wisdom, bringing it forward to your loved ones now, and seeding the future with it just the same.

I’d actually put this into the category of a meaning-of-life discussion. For me, the first question isn’t what does it take to be healthy, but why do you want to be healthy. What’s your purpose (beyond yourself)? Once answered, the requirements will become clearer. You might actually realize that a few more pounds and a higher cholesterol don’t really matter. Maybe you’ll live 5 fewer years…. or maybe you’ll live 5 years more without so much of the stress. Either way, your branches will stay strong, the inherent value, meaning and purpose of your life, will be visible to all that see you now and follow down the road, no matter which way the wind blows.

Mitakuye Oyasin,

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