Trees, Lakes, Leaves and Dirt - Symbolism in Nature to Recovery and Wellness

Having grown up surrounded by vast forests on the shores of Lake Superior, the beauty and power of nature has always been a part of my life. Admittedly, one I took for granted. I often feel land locked since moving to Guelph, although make do by enjoying the rivers that run through it and/or by visiting various trails that surround it.  

In between my undergraduate degree and my masters, I took some courses in horticultural therapy*, taught by Guelph’s own, Mitchel Hewson. Having had a taste of horticultural therapy years before, knowing I was going to become a psychotherapist after my masters and my love of nature, it seemed like a good fit. I love, regardless of whatever the season, there are things we can take away from nature, applying them to recovery and/or health and wellness. 

Sometimes, we have to go through trauma in order to grow. There are some trees, such as the Jack Pine or Aspen, that require fire in order for the resin on its pinecones to melt and open. Only after this can its seeds emerge. Now, I’m not saying, we should go out and burn down all the forests for this to happen.  What I am saying, through the process of something initially thought as devastating, there can be benefits. Life teaches us lessons through various means. They don’t all occur after trauma, but some do. I often wonder if I would have learned about boundaries and assertiveness or the benefits of challenging distorted thinking at the age that I did without having gotten sick. Of course these skills can be taught/learned without trauma, but for some, it acts as a catalyst for growth.

We need to fertilize and water the soil in order for plants to thrive.  I have a few plants, mostly in my office, that are in desperate need of fertilizer and nutrients. The leaves are dry and droopy, and the green isn't as rich as it can or has been. Just like plants, we too need to feed and water ourselves if we want to grow. We can do this by literally nourishing our body’s physical needs with food and water.  We also have emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs tend to as well. Check out the post on self-care to learn more about meeting your 5 basic needs.

Bloom where you are planted… and when necessary relocate. The plants in my life are surviving… but they aren’t flourishing. The short winter hours and direction of sunlight are not optimal growth conditions. I know if I changed these conditions, it would thrive. I do think there is truth to trying to bloom where one is planted, and sometimes, you’ll do better if you relocate. I remember when I was in treatment, my friend sent me a quote: “Bloom where you are planted” (various sources cited). I get what she was trying to tell me: make the best of where you are right now, I know it’s tough, but it’s possible to flourish there.  She was right. I could have dug my heels in and resisted treatment, or I could use that opportunity to grow. And, I did. But, there came a point where if I wanted to keep growing, I needed to leave. 

Pruning required. Some trees require pruning for optimal fruit growth to occur. Otherwise, the tree will expend too much energy and nutrients in trying to feed all of its blooms and branches versus making a shorter distance to fewer branches. Sometimes it's fruit yield and quality suffers. We all do things that aren’t in our best growth interest. And, sometimes we do things that completely hinder growth. It's important, in the early stages of treatment, to focus on what solidifies recovery and builds a sturdy foundation. It's extremely difficult to prioritize this if there are 50 other demands requiring one's attention. There's only so much one can do before something gives. As your recovery/health/wellness strengthens, it's possible to take on more, however regardless of where you are in recovery, it's always good to take stock of where your resources are going and if its producing what you want. 

Plant near other trees.  As a kid, we had cherry trees growing in the back yard. The type of cherry tree we had required other cherry trees to be near by so they could pollinate each other. We too need one another for support and growth. We aren’t islands and don’t do well in isolation. Some need a lot of contact and stimulation from others to thrive, while others do better in smaller doses. One is not more right than the other. What's important is knowing and building the type of community that promotes and maintains growth.

*For more on horticultural therapy, check out: "Horticulture as Therapy" by Mitchel Hewson.