Updated: Sep 11, 2021
I love being outside, enjoying the simplicity, peace and fresh air. So earlier this week, given the glorious start to the week's weather, I chose to gift myself time to do something I enjoy - hiking. Giving myself downtime, and listening to nudges toward self care when the mind/body/spirit speaks it to me, sometimes elude me, despite how far I’ve come over the past few years of my healing journey. Fortunately, the forecast that it was going to be the warmest day of the week, enticed me to shift some work around to allow myself and Rohan, my two-year old energetic fluffball of a Morkie to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the warmth of the day. It was still cold by Richmond standards, but for a PA-grown girl, the crisp 55 degrees offered a refreshing alternative to another cup of caffeine to offset low energy that can set in after lunch.
As Rohan and I tracked through the woody trail along the riverbank, I attuned to the rapids coming off the James that sounded almost oceanic. Hiking beyond their soft roar, the water and the world grew quieter (but not less muddy) and I began to appreciate the way the sun casted tree shadows into the wet leaves. My mind meandered in slower cadence than my footsteps, all taking us toward stillness in the vast outdoor space of the park. We encountered others along the trail, but often we were immersed in abundant peacefulness. And then, close to the water's edge of Pony Pasture, we "met" Reginald. A grandly tall, scrawny yet somehow sturdy tree, with such clear personality that declared a name. I mean, this guy had personality! His energy hollered through the crisp air and over the rock-washing waters. He wanted to be heard. He stood tall, in all of his quirky, twisting height, towering over me, over an enormous hole in his own core as if to say, "LOOK! We ALL have these gaping holes along our journey that literally feel like it has carved something out of us. I'm still standing here to show you the truth and power of this!" And there was more...
As I stood on the silty bank of a high flowing river, captivated by this tree, the message I got crystallized all at once. My mind gasped toward Reggie, How is this possible? And then, in the breezes, he pointed. Look beneath the gaping hole. Imagine...let it fully sink in, the height and weight of this amazing tree, still FULLY supported in all of its splendor, reaching skyward, DESPITE a hole in its trunk that I literally could crawl inside. Below the silty soil, beneath the big, scary hole, were thousands of unseen wooden tentacles, twisting, burrowing, and layering with mesmerizing precision to create a foundation strong enough to hold vertical a 30 foot tall tree. I stood gaping at the gape, and at the “aha!” moment Reginald was sharing. It wasn't only that we all have holes we have to learn to grow beyond or through, he was asking me to look more closely. Look beneath, imagine what I could not see, yet I knew to be true: there are roots deep and wide beneath this gaping hole that allowed Reggie (now we were casual friends) to thrive beyond.
Then I thought of a number of people I know seem to recently be coming through a particularly low point. For some the impetus is death/loss, for others it's serious health concerns of their own or a loved one. And sometimes, we're battling one or another insecurity or other negative thought/emotion that our mind has latched onto to torture us for what seems like sheer sport. In any regard, awareness of this hole can feel so big that it can nearly consume us. In moments like this, the gaping darkness of it can seem almost unbearable. We wonder whether we can ever find our way out.
We sometimes even convince ourselves that choosing self care in periods of high pressure, illness or stress is counter-intuitive (the mind often chastises us, reminding us how much work is still to be done) or somehow wrong. Yet, tons of research on wellness, not to mention productivity, prove that self care breaks and attending to our health allow us to achieve higher states of both wellness and performance. Personally, I've finally accepted (mostly, usually) that life is about being perfectly imperfect, finding spaces to enjoy life as well as places to grow. I am still and always will be a work in progress, perfectly imperfect...embracing as best I can the new me, which changes ever so slightly on the daily.
The changes we make initially are seemingly imperceptible, (we may feel only an inkling of a shift) while other moments they feel grueling, painful...even bringing us literally to our knees. And then there are those moments when the joy is on the verge of deep intoxication, as if we are drunk on bliss from the divine love that bursts through the soul, and we feel more wholeness as we come closer to ourselves.
Those moments of bliss feel the “best”, most joyful, most profound, but it’s usually those painful, gaping ones that have the most to teach us, the most to offer us in terms of real, honest and rock-solid foundations on which we learn to stand again.
When we transform our pain to wisdom, when we release whatever is the root of that pain, it’s as if it creates for us the deepest, thickest ground from which we can then spring to the sparkling, vibrant versions of who we always were. (Confusing, yeah...? The simple truth is when you step through one of these expeditions along the journey, it is usually clear that at our core, this shiny new us was always in there somewhere, just waiting for us to clear out our emotional crap, or release whatever caused the gape.)
It was truly astounding how profoundly this tree spoke of how we often perceive these huge gaping holes - these difficult points of our journey - as too much to bear, as weakening us to a point of no return, yet what we are made of, runs so much deeper. In the pleasure that was meeting Reggie, here is a bit of tree wisdom for anyone who maybe has been feeling that big gaping hole lately themselves:
1. Feel into your foundation. Dig into the dirt and trust it. A little mud never hurt anyone.
2. Don't ignore the hole, and give yourself time to experience the pain or negative emotion it creates. But equally important, once you've done that, don't let the hole define you. It's only one part of you or one part of your journey.
3. Use Reggie's outdoor etiquette as a metaphor for life: Let the sunshine nourish you. Drink your water. Care for and appreciate your soil/foundation. Show people who you are and say Hello in all your perfectly imperfectness. Reach up, and keep growing.