January 21, 2020

You Got All That From a Tree?


During my day of silence a few weeks ago, part of the time was spent on the back patio, observing and listening to nature. We live smack in the middle of suburbia, part of the 5 million people who call the Phoenix metro home. Even so, our neighborhood is far enough away from of busy streets so things are pretty quiet, making the time outside restorative

One of my focus points during this time was a large tree in our backyard. Don't ask me what type; I am not a tree person. I think it is some type of ash, but....?
That's it in the picture above, so if you want to help identify it, please go right ahead.

I have probably noticed that tree hundreds of times, but beyond its need for trimming,  have never really thought about it. This time, I began to see its parts as an interesting metaphor for retirement. If you will, indulge my flights of fancy for a just a few minutes.

*The tree is reaching upward, growing taller. I would like to think of my life in the same way. My days of growing physically taller are over, though my waist does seem to be expanding a bit. Running the Boston Marathon or hiking up a 10,000 foot mountain are not happening. Scuba diving days are past.

But, I would like to think that I am not mentally static. I am reaching for new experiences, new opportunities to keep my mind fresh and my attitude open. Like the leaves, I can see myself as reaching for the sun, the brightness that is available to us all.

* The tree responds to the slightest breeze. In this example, I wish I was more like the tree. I do respond to slight breezes, but often in non-productive ways. The smallest change to my schedule, an inconsiderate driver, or the latest stupid news out of Washington tends to ruffle my leaves, causing me to waste valuable time and energy on something that has no real significance to my day-to-day life. The tree sways in the wind without breaking, or even bending very much. That should be my goal.

* The tree has a hard exterior protecting a very vulnerable interior. The smallest bug can cause serious damage to the tree's health. I think many of us are this way. We present a strong exterior. We are not damaged by the slings and arrows of life. We need very little help or support.

Yet, inside that gruff shell we can be hurting. Small things can leave permanent damage. We can be lonely, disappointed or afraid. We can live in fear that others might see past the tough bark and glimpse our vulnerability. 

I suggest we would be less squishy inside if we didn't always put up a false front. Letting others into our lives would give us the emotional support and freedom to really be us, in all our warts and weaknesses. 

* One tree may have flaky bark, another a smooth look, but none is perfect, all have some flaws. I hope my newly found sense of spirituality and belief in the connection between all of us would allow me to see past the "bark" that shows flaws but covers the same thing: a human being.

* Trees are never straight. They grow up but not without some deviation. Isn't that just like our retirement journey? We don't proceed in a straight line through life. There are detours, there are side trails we follow. Our overall path is forward, but not without dips and bends.

* Many trees lose their leaves every winter, but come back stronger and healthy with the return of warm weather. We all need periods of rest, of pauses in our journey. We need to remind ourselves that life is a journey that requires different seasons of energy, of recuperation, of spurts of growth. Like a tree that appears to be dormant, or even dead during the winter months, we need breaks to regroup before moving forward.

 After a major health problem, the death of someone close to us, divorce, or serious relationship issues we may appear to be withdrawn from life. After a financial setback the energy required to keep afloat may have drained us.

But, like the tree in spring, we have the internal strength to regroup and reenter life. We must give ourselves permission to "lose our leaves" for awhile, knowing that there will come a time when the life force within will reassert itself.


Heavens, all that from 20 minutes staring at a tree? Yep. And that is precisely why I plan on having a quiet day once a month. Without external stimulation  our minds can be free to really see what is right in front of us. Only then can we understand the lessons the world is anxious to share.

20 comments:

  1. Bob, you used the word "restorative" in reference to spending time outdoors, and I couldn't agree more. The natural world is my sanctuary, and its peace and solitude provide countless opportunities for contemplation. Sitting quietly with nature and allowing my mind to wander often results in a deeper understanding of some aspect of life, a reminder that I am truly blessed in many ways, or a change in my perspective regarding a particular person or situation - much like what happened to you with your tree. I really like the title of this post - and your analogies are spot on.

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    1. THere are several nice parks and nature areas within 10-15 minutes of our home. I am embarrassed to report that the only time I visit them is to walk the dogs. This post and comments like yours give me increased motivation to spend time in them either along or with Betty. A folding chair and time to be still is a prescription for calm.

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  2. Bob, Tanya Tucker's song - Strong Enough to Bend - came to mind as I read this post. I marvel at the resilience of a tree that grows on a rocky outcrop. I'm surrounded by trees and do find Nature truly restorative.

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    1. Like so much in life, after a while trees tend to become "invisible." We stop seeing what is right in front of us as individual parts of our life blend into the expected. As both you and Mary note, nature has real power to help us heal, if we allow it to do so.

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  3. I love this side of you Bob, it certainly adds a welcomed diversity of your blog.

    It's interesting how people's view of the world varies by personality and even region of the country. I had to laugh when you mentioned the "large tree in the back of your yard". I too have a place where I have my "peace" time, at least for three seasons a year. I call it "up on the mountain" as it is the highest part of my 2.5 acre homestead. As you I have often contemplate on a tree in my yard who I named Mo. Mo is about 4 ft in diameter (a little larger than your large tree).

    When you see your large tree you relate it to the philosophy of life. When I see mine, I think of all the history he has seen and will see in the future. My house is almost a hundred years old now and I think Mo was probably here before that and will likely still be here years after I am dust.

    The most interesting part of life for me is its diversity. Wouldn't life be boring if we all saw the world the same way?

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    1. Isn't that sort of the direction of one of your new blogs: history?

      Thanks, R.J. I am enjoying a bit more room to stretch my publicized thoughts.

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  4. We also live in suburbia and don't get out into the wilderness as often as we might like, but even in our backyard there are plants, birds, and an occasional wild animal that help restore us to our true selves. Your tree as a metaphor for retirement is right on, including that some of us are a bit flaky :)

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    1. Yes, the flaky part fits all of us, at one time or another!

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  5. "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree," to quote Joyce Kilmer. Great Metaphor, Bob, but what did you do with the rest of your quite day?

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    1. Not a lot during the silent day, and it was wonderful. I finished two books and came up with some ideas for blog posts. There were a few naps involved as well as a neighborhood walk. And, of course, sitting on the back porch where the tree idea came from.

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  6. Love these observations. One of the things we do on our silent retreat (where there are always some optional prompts) is go outdoors and observe what we see. It's amazing the number of things in nature that we just breeze past on a normal day. It's one of the best activities on my silent retreats. Of course, hiking on the woods paths, reading, and the occasional nap are also lovely. And I always end up journaling a lot. I have my best thought processes, problem solving, and ideas in a silent atmosphere.

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    1. Silent days are like a staycation, aren't they? You don't have to really go anywhere, but you find yourself refreshed with new ideas and perspectives. And, no packing!

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  7. Great post. I need to remind myself that those deviations in life often make it better in the end.

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    1. Wouldn't it be boring if life had no variety or challenges?

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  8. As a gardener and a nature-lover who lives in the woods, I loved this meditation on trees. You might enjoy Peter Wohlleben's book-length meditation on trees, The Hidden Life of Trees.

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  9. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful observations. I lived in suburbia most of my life but am fortunate to now live in the woods where nature surrounds me. My beautiful environment often begs for quiet attention. I've contemplated the lives of rocks, trees, and many different wildlife and insects. We all live in such an abundant world, but sometimes we need to be silent in order to fully appreciate it.
    ~Yoga Woman

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    1. It doesn't take much for me to get excited by nature. I just put a bird feeder in the backyard and am excited to watch as birds discover a new winter feeding choice.

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  10. I love being out in nature. It is very calming, and I have learned to observe and appreciate the details of the natural world. One of my first mentors in art taught me that observation is fundamental to develop an artist’s eye. I think that being grounded in nature also is very good for one’s mental health and well-being.

    Jude

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    1. If you are of the mindset that a Supreme Being created the natural world, then every moment spent looking at it is time spent enjoying that creative force. If your not in that camp, nature is just a miracle of complexity and cohesive systems, worthy of appreciating on its own merits.

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