I didn’t use to think of myself as an “outdoors” girl. In fact, many in my circles would still agree that I am way more city than country. And that’s true. But when I was much younger I used to love sitting in a tree in my suburban backyard. The branches of a big soft needle pine arranged themselves like a spiral staircase for me. I’d climb up them and sit in the sappy branches to think, to breathe, and to grow. I’ve lived in New York City since I was 18 (that’s over a decade now), and it’s been many years since I’ve had a backyard or a tree for contemplation. However, in recent years I have turned more and more to nature as a guide, a partner, and a teacher. From my years of partnership and deep sisterhood with The WILD Woman Project, to my husband and I’s treks to all the National Parks, and even to my brother’s ranch with horses, pigs, and goats in rural Florida … nature is calling me back. It hasn’t given up on me.
One of my favorite things about nature is the lessons we can learn from it. Nature is wise. One of my favorite teachers: trees. In fact, when I mentor other women in business I use a tree as my main analogy for growing a sturdy, beautiful, fruitful business. I’m big on analogies and metaphors! So each part of the tree and the environment represent something in that person’s life or business plan. In this case, these tree lessons apply to anyone’s life. Perhaps even yours.
Nothing on this earth is standing still. It’s either growing or it’s dying.
No matter if it’s a tree or a human being.
Below are some of my observations and lessons learned from trees. I encourage you to read through and see how you relate, and I also encourage you to spend some time with trees to learn your own lessons. Careful observation and pontification can lead to really great hurrays and a-ha moments! Nature is a master teacher. Take a look at a few of my own below.
Lessons from Trees
A man watches his pear tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap.
Grow a little bit every day.
Probably THE most beneficial lesson I’ve learned from a tree is the power of patience and small, daily growth. In meditation once I saw an impressive, giant tree. It had many branches and deep gnarly roots. Vines were growing up it. Little animals were nested all through it and it was supporting lots of life. I wanted in on its secret of success. Eagerly, I asked it: “WOW! How did you get to be so BIG?” Before I could finish the sentence, in my meditation this tree answered me with, “Wait, hold on. I’m not done growing. In fact, I grow a little bit each day.” The lesson for me was that we never stop growing. We never “arrive”. And that small, daily growth adds up over time and is worth the effort and the wait. And that it’s not possible (or important) to go from a tiny sapling to giant tree overnight.
I remind myself of this lesson on a regular basis in my life – for my business, and for my personal growth, too. “Patience,” whispers the tree. “Don’t force it.” I learned that fruit comes in due time. The key for me has been finding joy along the journey and realizing that slowing down can sometimes be the way to hurray.
Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground – as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.
Root into your values.
In my goal setting blog post, the #1 thing that came up again and again from great goal setters was that you must first know your values. Once you firmly have those in place you can plant your seeds (or goals) in the rich soil of your values. Allowing the roots to grow in what really matters to you sets you up with a strong foundation for success.
In addition, it’s important to keep your roots as wide as your branches. In a conversation with one of my coaches, she shared a real-life example of a tree in her yard that was in danger of falling over. Its branches had grown out far and wide. In fact, they were wider than the root structure. It needed to be pruned or taken down entirely before it caused a danger to those around it. When I mentor fellow women in business on this, we discuss that roots are the business plans and systems you have in place for your company and the branches are their offerings, products, and services.
In anyone’s case – your branches are the things you are doing in the world. Your goals. Your tasks. Your hobbies. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin or too top heavy, loading yourself up with big branches without first stretching your roots and digging in deeper. That firm foundation of values (like love, freedom, family, creativity, etc) and plans (like step by step plans, goals, or intentions) and good practices (like rituals, or regular practices like meditation, good food and exercise regime, etc) will set you up for success so you can grow and reach bigger and farther when the time comes.
In another analogy, our roots are not just our values but our history. I spent some time getting to know my ancestry and rooting into my Puerto Rican familial background a few years ago. Connecting deep into my family’s history and my ancestral roots has provided me with strength and support.
Speaking of branches above, it’s important to remember to branch out now and then. If you notice, most branches do not start at the very base of the tree. As mentioned above, it takes time and a solid trunk and deep roots at the bottom to keep those branches in place. So if you feel the desire to start something new or add something to your plate, check in with your base first. Then, go for it.
Keep in mind that branches don’t always grow in a straight line. They twist and turn, they stretch, they find their way slowly as they grow. That may mean that an endeavor you start may or may not take you in exactly the direction you anticipated. Go (or should I say grow) with it. Then, when you’re ready to try something new, branch out in a new directly. Branches don’t often grow right on top of each other or on only one side of the tree. They spread out. They find balance. Branch out and stretch yourself to try new and beautiful things.
Soak in the light
In a recent women’s circle, we discussed the purpose of leaves and their symbolism in our lives. One of the most fascinating bits of information I learned in my research for this circle was how leaves soak in the light. I already knew about photosynthesis, but it never occurred to me that leaves naturally arrange themselves in the best possible place to soak in as much light as possible. They arrange themselves for abundance. They purposefully put themselves in the way of light and energy. What if we arranged ourselves, our lives, our relationships to soak in as much joy, light, and abundance as possible? This question has been rattling around in my heart. I think it may inspire some big changes.
Rest and Let it Go
Nature knows best when it comes to rest. Certain trees have taught me that a time of sleep, dormancy, and rest is important – especially through darker, colder times. They know that pausing doesn’t mean dying. In fact, they know that pausing is the way to live through the dark times so they can blossom again when the time is right. They are just conserving their energy. They trust that they will bloom and grow again.
I recently learned that trees can sense the days getting shorter and the presence of less sunlight during Fall. Because leaves use up or release just about as much energy as they absorb from sunlight, they start to turn colors to attract less sunlight and start to conserve energy. Then, they let go of the things (leaves) that are consuming too much energy and prepare to take a breather. That’s another thing about trees. They know when to let go. They have a trust in the process of life that they’ll grow leaves again. That abundance mindset and trust in the cycles of life could serve us all well.
Daring is doing. Daring is asking something outrageous despite your chances of failure and rejection. Daring is going out on a limb by believing in something that no one else understands, and if all fails, daring is trying again.
Go out on a limb
We can stay on the ground and never take the risk. Or we can climb the tree and go out on the limb. Metaphorically, going out on a limb is about going for it and taking a chance. It’s about putting in the effort and risk for the reward. Even if it’s scary, even if you’re unsure it will hold you, even if it’s super high up – sometimes going out on a limb is worth it. That’s where the juiciest fruit it, after all. So take it one step at a time, check your footing, and go out on a limb to support and help yourself and those in need.
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
Sway with it
Wind storms, like emotional turmoil, can cause a lot of damage. Sometimes that damage is the price we pay to whether the storm. We let go, we release, we say goodbye. And sometimes, being flexible and pliable, and swaying with the wind is the best way to get through a storm. In your life that may look like loosening up a bit and not being so rigid or set in your ways. It may mean making a plan and when chaos hits, bending the plans without breaking. It may mean letting go of control and allowing yourself to be tossed for a little bit. Go for the ride and sway with it a bit and treat life like a dance.
We are one with nature
At the risk of sounding like a REAL TREE HUGGER, I gotta say that this lesson is pretty profound. If you’ve ever studied how photosynthesis and our respiratory system works (again, something I meditated on for a recent women’s circle prep), you’ll know what I mean. The gist is that we breathe in oxygen, and it is literally keeping us alive moment to moment. When we breathe it in we absorb it into our body where it flows into our heart and is dispersed throughout out bodies. We then breathe out “waste” as carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is then absorbed through the leaves of trees, which use their own process to convert it into fuel and then omit their own waste… oxygen. In this way, we and trees and leaves are very much dependent on each other. We not only co-exist, we co-support each other. We are constantly in a life-giving relationship with every single breath we take. If this isn’t blowing your mind already, I invite you to do some more research and look at both the scientific and metaphorical information here. Because it’s deep. Trees are not just “things” on this earth with us. They are part of us. We are part of them. We are literally connected and part of nature.
We are perfectly imperfect
When studying trees, I had a thought that the tree does not think “I wish I were taller” or “what if I were thinner” or “gosh I wish my branches didn’t bend like that”. You may be thinking “that’s because trees are not alive, Kimmay”. And while they may not have a conscious (that we know of), they are very much alive. And they were created by the same divine being that made … us. We are, in fact, part of nature. And nature does not make mistakes. The tree was created just as it was meant to be, and it grew in just as it should, and it is beautiful simply because it exists. And the same rule applies to you.
I’ve always preferred a real Christmas tree to a faux one. I am so thankful that the world is filled with real trees, and not fake, plastic, overly perfect trees. It’s their realness that makes them alive. It’s their authenticity that makes them so valued. There is beauty in imperfection and realness. And the same rule applies to you.
Pay attention to what helps you grow
For trees, growth comes from fuel like sunlight, and water, and even fertilizer and decomposing things. In our lives sunlight may mean joy and abundance, water is almost always associated with emotions and tears and allowing ourselves to let those in, and fertilizer and decomposing things are… well, the shit of life. The shit we experience in life helps us grow because it’s rich in learning, just like fertilizer is rich in nutrients. Welcome in the growth. Allow the feelings. Accept the abundance. Say thanks for the shit.
Your Turn: What have you learned from trees? How can some of the lessons here, or some that you’ve learned, help you say hurray?
Credits: The images in this post were taken by Becky Yee Photo during my #HurrayVacay in Hawaii. Special thanks to Tina and Mark. As always, there is ZERO airbrushing or photoshopping of my body. That’s a commitment I hold whether I’m wearing a cute yellow dress like this one, a bathing suit, or my underwear. Our bodies – just as they are – are beautiful. Hurray!