What kind of tree are you?

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July 14, 2012 by marieelia

“You have to know what kind of tree you are; you must find the ecosystem in which you can thrive. Why are you drowning your roots by a watercourse, wilting and sighing through the night, if you are an oak, and need to be on a savannah or a sand plain? What is the perennial source of your life?”
—Mary Rose O’Reilley, The Love of Impermanent Things: A Threshold Ecology

I read The Love of Impermanent Things about six years ago, when it first came out, when I was trying to recover from one of the unhealthiest times in my life—physically and mentally. At the time I gravitated most toward her ruminations on creativity and productivity (“Should I count it a productive morning, having learned to watch drops of water stand at attention, or do I have to write a double sestina to earn my keep?”), but I also clung to her seemingly cavalier attitude toward trying new things. I wrote a review of the book for our local Quaker Meeting’s newsletter, which I also put up here, on GoodReads, and here is a line from it:

“The entire book is a quiet declaration (non-linear and often non-narrative) of a belief in exploration, letting-go, trusting, trying, trying again, holding conflicting ideas simultaneously—the master potter making the teabowl who must ‘in the same breath, obey the rules and transcend them.'”

And in the vein of exploration, I offer the passage that started this post: What kind of tree are you? You have to know what works for you, what fuels you physically, creatively, spiritually. I rarely have conversations with people about my eating and health practices because, to me, my approach isn’t simple, and it isn’t complete. I find that the better I care for myself physically, the better I feel emotionally. I feel loved by my own actions. I like believing that I am worth treating well. This is hard to explain to people. What looks like deprivation is actually the opposite: I’m giving myself what I know I need.

I’ve struggled for a long time with anxiety, which most of my doctors have named a very generic Anxiety Disorder. I resisted and then gave in to taking medication about 10 years ago, and we experimented for a long time before finding a medicine and dosage that worked for me. I was functional, but I still experienced huge fluctuations in mood, coupled with sometimes debilitating anxiety. After changing my diet radically, I immediately noticed that my moods were steadier. Maybe it’s because my blood sugar stabilized; maybe it’s because not digesting properly—and gluten-intolerance will prevent proper digestion—was inhibiting my body’s ability to absorb the medication or nutrients.

I think part of it is definitely making a conscious effort to value my health and treat myself as worthy of a healthy body. When someone takes the time to listen to you, you feel validated. When I listen to my body and try to create an environment in which it can thrive, the acts of merely trying something and trusting myself make me feel better. Just as I eventually weaned myself off needing to see a therapist every week, I hope eventually that I am well enough in tune with my physical and emotional needs to nourish myself without much deliberation. I hope that is now experiment will become sustaining ritual and practice. For now I’m enjoying the freedom of really listening and responding.

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