Friday, July 3, 2009

Parable of the Birch Tree

I have spent the last several months feeling encumbered in ways I can't quite define. This has troubled me, because historically I've been able to analyze such feelings in my life, identify the issues behind them, and then make whatever changes are necessary to restore my feeling of well-being. In other words, I have always been able to replace a sense of heaviness with what I see as my natural state, lightness.

This time is a little different...and a little more difficult. Because the heaviness is more subtle and less intrusive, it's both easier to ignore and harder to analyze. Since I haven't been able to identify anything really new that might be weighing me down, I am chalking most of my droopiness up to partially unresolved empty nest syndrome, a few ongoing health issues, menopausal humdrum, and hormones. Having talked to other women in their fifties, I think I'm pretty much on target with this assessment, and I've resolved to just sort of wait things out as I pass from one life stage to another as patiently as possible. However, while it's definitely true that I'm in a transitional phase that is not entirely comfortable, enjoyable or avoidable, it does occur to me that while I cannot change the normal evolution of my roles (and body) as I age, I can at least make sure that I am optimizing my health and good feeling by not allowing factors I can control to sap my physical and spiritual energy.

Hence, the Parable of the Birch Tree. But ere we begin...

...take a close look, if you will, at the small birch tree pictured just to the left of our lamp post, above. It has everything in common with the beautiful trees on either side of it. All of them were planted years ago, on the same day and date. Every one of these trees has been exposed to nearly identical conditions of wind, sun, soil, and water. Yet, only one is ailing. Not dying, as the arborist assures me, but ailing. And definitely stunted.

Now take a slightly closer look.

Notice anything you didn't see before?

Yes......? No......?

How 'bout now?

And now?

Ah, yes. It's called a burl, my friends, and it begins with an injury or stress that affects the bark of a previously thriving tree. Over time, extra wood begins to grow around the injury, creating a "tumor" that weakens but does not kill the tree. Quite literally, the strength of a healthy tree is sapped away as unneeded wood (baggage?...burdens?) gets added to the previously streamlined (lighter?...less encumbered?) trunk.

Formation of a burl, then, involves (in any given tree) excessive, undirected, and uneven growth. What's more, while the intricate patterns of the burl wood can make the grain's appearance quite beautiful, the wood itself is made of softer stuff than the wood of the trunk proper and cannot be relied upon for strength. It can almost always be relied upon, however, to weaken the original tree and undermine its integrity.

Are you getting my message here? The thing is...I'm beginning to think I may be carrying around a burl or two of my own! I'm realizing that I've been hastily and haphazardly patching over my above-described discomfort with all kinds of soft wood that promises to please but doesn't quite satisfy. Fortunately, unlike my birch tree, I don't have to "just live with" that result. I needn't continue to add insult to injury by covering over the initial stressor(s) with layers and layers of extra "wood" until I am not only weighed down, but stunted. I can decide right now that it's time to stop filling my personal burl with a bunch of soft wood I don't need...wood that weakens me, however beautiful its grain may appear.

My surviving-but-not-thriving little birch tree has taught me a valuable lesson, and I'll be looking at it every day to remind myself that I want to continue growing tall and strong and unencumbered. I will also remind myself not to be overly invested in the beautiful burl-builders I've been using to create and maintain the soft, superfluous wood now bulging on the trunk of the tree that is me. A few of those "beautiful" things are: too much food, too much talk, too much media (internet included), too much reading, too much fact, too much meaningless (frequently superficial) self-gratification in general. Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to eat, talk, watch my favorite shows, read a few good books, write a few nice pieces, and pay attention to my needs. But I am also going to pay considerably more attention to the who, what, when, where, why and how of it all. I want to be deliberate in my choices, not diversionary. I want to stop frittering away my time, stay focused, and get back to basics. In short, I want to de-burl.

So, here's the plan: My principal concern will be to nurture, sustain, and continue healthy growth. I want to leave the soft, swirled burl behind in favor of laying in more of the good, hard wood that stretches my spirit and helps me reach upward. Let's face it. The instigating circumstances aren't going to change appreciably. I am still going to be 57 years old and counting, with all the advantages, disadvantages, and adjustment that entails. But, and this is the clincher, while I may not be at the top of my physical powers (and yes, it is beginning to bug me!), I can still be at the top of my game. How do I accomplish this? Through the old but all-too-easily-slighted standards: prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, quality time with family and friends, one-on-one service, being still, being real...and in general, being discriminating about my choices and pursuits...including such basics as healthier eating and increased exercise. After all, I do have more time on my hands these days, and I need to make sure I'm using it in a way that lifts me up rather than weighs me down.

Which brings me back to the beginnings of this post and my wistfully expressed quest to exchange a lingering sense of heaviness for the lightness I prefer. At this point, it's pretty clear to me what I need to do. Instead of slouching around my suddenly-sort-of-unfamiliar life binding up real and imaginary wounds with burl growth, I should be standing up straighter than ever before and healing them...with spiritual growth. Duh. (Funny how we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again, isn't it?)

Thus concludes my rambling rendition of the Parable of the Birch Tree, complete with rather-too-predictably rhymed moral:

"You can't give life (or growth) a whirl
until you learn to starve that burl."



Carolyn said...

Lovely reflections. You sound like me :)

karen said...

I liked this post. I've had a hard day, but mostly because I had a hard time putting "ME" aside, and thinking more about others instead. Thank you for yet another reminder to stop being so self centered.

em said...

and you can freak out your friends by comparing yourself to a tree with a tumor! don't get my wrong, i'm loving your writing and your analogy, but please tell me, "it's not a tum-a" in the words of your great govenor!!!! until then, i can't promise i'll be sleeping soundly. ok ok, a bit dramatic, but really, my stomach jumped into my throat for half a second. ;-)

VK said...

Very thoughtful and great annalogy. I too have some burls that need to be less nurtured. You've given me pause.
(The word I have to verify below before this will post, is just one letter off of overeating - how ironic.)

Heather Anderson said...

I think you said the burls start with original injury. I think sometimes those original injuries have long reaching effects on our lives. Maybe going back to the original injury and facing it head on instead of covering it with soft layers hoping to hide the darkness that lays under the burl would help bring us back to the light.

Momza said...

Very interesting. Your words/analogy speak to my heart.
Old injuries can interfere with our own designs of happiness...and we need to deal with those injuries, leave them in the past in such a way there is no scar.
That's the challenge isn't it?

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