There’s a kind of work that I do and recommend to others that I call Tree Work.
Daily Tree Practice: Sit quietly and visualize yourself as a tree. Visualize your roots going deep into the soil, into the Earth. Visualize yourself grounded and rooted–nourished by the Earth. Visualize your branches as reaching out all around you and to the sky, taking in nutrients, perspectives, beauty, rain, sunlight, sounds, the breeze, the footsteps of birds, animals and children in your branches. Visualize yourself as one with all the rest of the Earth, not separate or apart, but rather a part of.
Visualize yourself not leaning too far in any one direction, but rather well-balanced in all directions, able to bend and spring back, able to maintain your sense of balance. You can add elements to this like seeing yourself not overly leaning into someone else’s business or problems, or perspectives. Not taking on anything that doesn’t feel right or doesn’t feel compatible with who you are. This is a daily practice which you can tailor to your best interests.
Then, things happen. Events that may call forth the need for boundary cleaning or defense. There are many events that can occur in which someone is mad at us, says something mean or demeaning, or treats us disrespectfully or physically or emotionally hurts us or steals from us. Those things can leave us feeling that someone has “slimed us” or spread something caustic on us. Internal tree work is often needed, BUT, often internal self-care needs to wait while we “get safe”. If we’re in an unsafe situation the very first thing to do is get to safety. Use your body awareness and your assertiveness skills to run, hide, seek help, back off and get to a safe place.
Once we are safe, we can tend to ourselves inside. We can get caught up in the big feelings negative events elicit and fail to quickly tend to ourselves inside. Acknowledge the feelings. Read my article on Working with Big Feelings & Grief, if you need help with that. Then we can do the following piece of self-care.
Washing Down our Tree Exercise: Go to someplace quiet like a small room or your car, or a garden and sit quietly in a meditative way. You can also have a friend or loved one present if they are supportive. Then visualize yourself like a tree. Visualize a faucet/shower at the very top of your tree self, that carries water, or light, or spirit, or anything good that works for you. Then turn on the faucet and wash yourself off thoroughly. This is like the shower in chemical plants that you can use if you get something caustic on you. You get under it and flood yourself with a massive shower of water. Keep going until you feel that you’ve thoroughly cleaned yourself off. Later you may want to do this some more, if you notice caustic stuff on you. Keep noticing what you are feeling in your body–what does your gut tell you? What does your heart tell you?
If you find that some part of your life, like your work, or some people you are around, lead you to feel often that you need to clean yourself off, pay attention to that. It may be that you do difficult work in which situations occur that are unpleasant, painful or toxic. Many people who work in the helping professions experience this. I suggest an honest self-assessment. Perhaps a friend, or friends can sit with you and give you support while you debrief about what is caustic or troubling. You may decide that the work is so vital or passionate for you that you are willing to keep doing it and keep washing yourself off. You may find the book “Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky to be helpful.
The daily tree practice, together with washing yourself off as needed may help you to feel more nourished and less worn down by difficult events. There is another article I wrote recently called Unifying Body, Mind, Heart & Spirit, and Finding Our Mojo that you may also find helpful.
© Jerry Allen 2017
About the author –
I hold a masters in public health education from UC Berkeley and a masters in counseling psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies. I’ve been a California licensed Marriage & Family Therapist since 1991, and am certified in Somatic Experiencing. I began my medicine man training in my first vision quest in 1973. I was initiated as a medicine man under the training and supervision of Theresa Dintino. I studied Aikido for 30 years and received 3 black belts. I live and practice in Oregon and Sebastopol, and enjoy playing music, tending our fruit orchard, and spending time with my two wonderful children.
Jerry Allen, LMFT, SEP, MPH, Anishinaabe Mashkikiiwinini (Medicine Man)
Gratitude Way Medicine Man Counseling & Coaching – email@example.com