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  • Writer's pictureLaura Burke - Coach

Nourish the roots

When you think about a tree, what do you picture in your mind’s eye? It may depend where you live in the world, what season it is, or perhaps simply your favorite type of tree. Maybe it’s a majestic Redwood, so tall you can barely see the top and so broad you can drive a car through a tunnel in the trunk. Maybe it’s a weeping willow, softly hanging down like rain suspended midair. Perhaps a cherry blossom, exploding with beautiful flowers in the spring. A sugar maple with fall leaves of every color. A pine tree, somehow holding snow on its skinny needles. A fruit bearing tree, heavy with papayas or coconuts.

My point is, you probably think about – and therefore ‘picture’ – the part of the tree above ground. This is what the tree presents to the world, sharing its beauty, its functionality and perhaps its product. The only way a tree is what it is, however, is because of its roots. The roots that we don’t see – much of, at least. The roots that we don’t often think about and perhaps most of us don’t know much about. The roots that must be nourished for the tree to thrive.

The analogy with people is rich. How we each are as individuals and the importance of nourishing our own roots. How we see one another and sometimes forget how much we don’t see.

Roots has a specific meaning for people: family, culture, heritage, where we ‘come from.’ This plays a tremendous role in shaping us in early years. At some point we can choose whether to embrace or deny any and all of these roots. At some point we can choose how we think and feel about the marks they have made on us, but we shouldn’t deny that they do make marks on us. We often don’t know much about others’ roots in this sense, except for those we are closest to. Yet we probably make many assumptions, or forget that how someone grew up may have a major impact on how they respond to certain circumstances or events.

I mostly think of our metaphorical roots as relating to the literal ones of trees. What I mean by people roots is our individual systems of nourishment and stability and growth. How much we take care of ourselves with things like rest, sleep (which is different than rest!), nutrition, exercise, learning, reflection, gratitude, being in service, faith, establishing supportive relationships, etc. Once you reach a certain age, no one is going to take care of these things for you but you. And they have a profound effect on our ability to grow, to respond, to present ourselves to the world.

You can’t often see the roots of trees and you can’t often see the roots of people. Unless someone talks about and shares with you what they do to nourish their roots, you often don’t know. If someone is particularly edgy, perhaps it’s not ‘you’… she isn’t getting enough rest. If someone seems needy and sensitive, perhaps he hasn’t established supportive relationships. The point is, rather than judging someone because of their outward appearance (i.e. actions), be curious about their roots.

Some roots grow deep and some grow wide. I don’t know a lot about trees but I’m sure these serve different purposes. Some probably maximize their ability to get the water and nutrients from the soil, while others provide structural support to allow the tree to withstand winds and storms. I think this explains why some people are more resilient than others. Some people are able to handle the biggest of challenges with ease and grace while others are entirely put out by the smallest of challenges.

The more nourished a tree’s roots, the grander it can grow. The sweeter fruit it can produce. The bigger canopy it can provide for shade or food or homes for other living beings. The more oxygen it can provide. And the more we nourish our own roots, the grander we can grow. The richer we can contribute to the world, to provide for and nurture others.

An important distinction between people and trees… As Jim Rohn says “You’re not a tree. If you don’t like something, change it.” A tree is what it is. The birch tree can’t one day decide it wants to be a lemon tree and start doing personal development, studying and working hard to become a lemon tree. An artic pine can’t decide it’s tired of the cold and relocate to Bora Bora. And while people can’t change our past – our DNA, family tree, and everything that is “you” up until this point is what it is - people can change their future. Everything going forward is up to us.

Take a quick look at your root system. Is it supporting you in what you want to do and be in life? Conversely, is what you present on the outside world a true reflection of what is on the inside? My hope is that each of us continue to nourish our roots so that they are healthy and keep us able to grow to be grand, and continue to grow with each passing year; to produce and provide for others; to shelter others; and to withstand the storms.

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