Pick a tree that inspires you. Now, imagine what it looks like. You will likely see its size, the coloring and texture of its bark, and its branches and leaves. These impressive physical attributes represent an ever-changing visual representation of its life. However, they do not provide the story of how it got there.
To reveal the tree's wisdom, we must understand its basic structure:
- Branches & Leaves: Reach out from the trunk and are responsible for the production of food. This is much like the outward appearance of our lives enshrined in our relationships, resumes and possessions.
- Trunk: Consists of concentric rings that grow outward, much like our personal experiences form the strong and ever-expanding core of who we are.
> Heartwood: The hard inner-most rings that provide strength, which is similar to our earliest experiences.
> Sapwood: The soft and vulnerable outer-most rings that support growth are akin to our most recent experiences.
> Bark: Tough and flexible protective layer, much like our character.
- Roots: Provide a structural foundation and are comparable to our values.
The lives of all trees start small, including the one you imagined. The impressive ones achieve their status by making the most of their environments year after year. Therefore, what we see today is not the end, but a single step in their life-long pursuit of ever-increasing grandeur.
Analyzing the tree's model for greatness provides insights that can be applied to our own pursuit of a grand and beautiful life:
Making the most of today
The growth of a tree is not burdened by the experiences of the past or influenced by any anticipation of what the future may hold. It simply lives each day maximizing the resources it has available. A year of drought and limited growth means the tree may not be starting out as big as it could have. However, it does not have any bearing on the growth potential of today.
Applicability: Focused attention on making the most of the resources we have available today will maximize our lifelong potential. A period of unfavorable circumstances, or wasted efforts, does not curse us to more of the same.
Resiliency and Adaptability are of Critical Importance
Trees are rugged. Wounds to their trunks are healed over with scars that provide more strength and beauty. They can also withstand losses of close to 50% of their leaves and branches, and still make a full recovery, so long as their trunks remains healthy. They instinctually know how to adapt to their new reality.
Applicability: Suffering is a reality of life and cannot be avoided. We must tend to our wounds and move on. Additionally, we can take enormous damage to our external lives and come back bigger and stronger than ever, if we have a strong core. Our relationships, resumes and possessions do not define us, unless we let them.
Unhealed Past Experiences Lead to Disease
The "heartwood" of a tree must be strong. Any disease or rot can quickly spread, leading to its demise.
Applicability: Our strength is formed by taking the lessons from our past experiences and moving on. Unresolved experiences and unsettled emotions will lead to disease that will fester and spread until properly attended to.
Imbalance Between Our External Lives and Values Creates Instability
The size and beauty of a tree's branches and leaves are limited by the strength and maturity of its roots. Unbalanced growth of the branches and leaves will create a top-heavy tree that will fall over at the first strong wind.
Applicability: We must place as much attention on cultivating our values as we do in expanding our external life, or risk falling over when put to the inevitable tests of life.
A Weak Character Exposes Our Core to External Threats
The bark of a tree is strong, providing protection against external threats (e.g. weather, disease, infestation). A weak spot is much more susceptible to incursion from unhealthy influences.
Applicability: We must have a strong character to protect ourselves from harmful external influences, such as fear of other's opinions, social conditioning and unhealthy relationships.
An Inflexible Character Impedes Growth
The bark of a tree is flexible, providing the tree with unlimited space to grow. If the bark is inflexible, growth cannot occur.
Applicability: We must accept that we do not have all of the answers. In fact, most of life's questions have a multitude answers. Sticking with one impedes our ability to fully understand the issue. Being consciously flexible with our character gives us the space to continue to learn and facilitates maximum possible growth. Any stiff parts will stifle the growth underneath.
We have an Enormous Advantage Over a Tree -- Our Mobility
Trees must make the most of the conditions that they are born into regardless of whether they are ideal.
Applicability: If we're planted in infertile, volatile or dangerous soil, we always have the opportunity to pick up our roots and move to a place with all the sun, rain and space we need.
The model of the tree reveals that our experiences provide strength, our values offer stability and our external lives provide the fuel for growth. We reach our full potential when we focus our attention on balanced growth and alignment between these three facets .