A man recently asked me why the logo on my Web site is a tree. It is, in fact, a graphic of a tree whose trunk and branches are actually an arm and an open hand. I loved the symbolism of that, I told him, along with the strength and endurance associated with the tree.
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Interesting that he asked just when trees in meaningful contexts have been popping up on my radar a lot.
Avoiding the difficult aspects of living only stunts our fullness, Mark Nepo writes in The Book of Awakening. When we do this we are like a tree that never fully opens to the sky.
I read Nepo daily and this was from his June 8 meditation. It was particularly notable because I had just watched a video sent by a friend, a Soviet animation called The Tree and the Cat. In it, the proud and strong tree is independent, almost defensively so. Along comes a cat whos been thrown out of a wagon and it longs to learn how to be as independent as the tree, so the tree invites it to hang out and watch.
As the seasons pass, we see the tree shun other creatures, but slowly it allows the cat to sleep in its branches and it even creates a safe space for the cat when it snows. Eventually, when the weather warms up and the cat sets out on its own, the tree is sad to see it go. The tree has, in fact, opened itself up to love.
Sit with that for a minute.
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If there is one thing I set out to do when I write a piece for this business section or coach a client, it is to bring a larger perspective that helps people see beyond the pragmatic, the uncertain, even the tragic. And so here I am, paying rapt attention to messages in trees.
Enter into the mix a film called The Tree of Life written and directed by Terrence Malik. Winner of the 2011 Cannes Film Festivals prestigious Palme dOr, it is currently in limited release and will be released nationally July 8. According to Wikipedia, the film chronicles the origins and meaning of life through the eyes of a 1950s Texas family, while also featuring sci-fi and surrealist themes and imagery through space and the birth of life on Earth.
It is impossible to capture the scope and rhythm of this work in words, but know that it is visually stunning to the point of bracing. It is shot so close at times, freckles and wrinkles and pain exposed, that I squirmed in my seat. Nature is lush and powerful, all melded together, sweeping and divine. The striking use of light -- coming through curtains, reflecting off water -- captivates over and over again.
I walked out of the theatre into the glare of Times Square with thoughts swirling, but one particular scene standing out in my mind. The stern patriarch of the featured family, Mr. OBrien movingly played by Brad Pitt, gets laid off and he is reeling. He cant believe this happened to him even though he never missed a day of work and tithed every Sunday.
What a familiar feeling, I thought. When I was laid off from a television producing job in 2002 after working consecutively since age 14, I kept thinking this doesnt happen to me. I do the right thing. I am reliable and hardworking. And time and again, with so many Americans losing jobs and homes, I hear this now as if were all exempt from setbacks because we show up and are productive citizens.
Misfortune befalls the good, we hear in a church sermon in the film. Malik opens the movie with a quote from the book of Job, whose central question is, Why do the righteous suffer?
Perhaps all we need to know is that they do, that we do. Paying your bills on time doesnt exempt you from losing your job. Making regular checkups a priority doesnt mean youll never get sick. Putting money in the collection plate every week doesnt mean your God is going to smile on you at every turn. And would you even want him to? How would you know joy then if there was no counter to it?
What made the aforementioned scene in the film even more striking was an earlier moment where Mr. OBrien clearly transported when he hears and plays music says to his son, I let myself get sidetracked from being a great musician.
Lets add that one to the list. Choosing the practical career path doesnt mean its all going to go swimmingly and that yearning for the opportunity to explore your gifts is going to vanish into thin air.
The tree in the films title is an oak, a type of tree best known for being powerful and for attracting lightning and sometimes for being humble and wise. That brings me back to Nepos words about opening up fully and of the Soviet animation where the tree learns to do just that.
The mother in the film, Mrs. OBrien actress Jessica Chastain is beautiful in the role has a quiet strength as she sees her family through sweet joys, rocky times and even the death of her son.
The only way to be happy is to love, she says. Unless you love, your life will flash by.
And finally, through all of it, the trees deliver their ultimate message.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.