Roots and Nourishment to Weather the Storms of Life

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Most of us are aware of the personal benefits of being present and practicing gratitude; however, in times of uncertainty or when we feel overwhelmed it’s not always easy to appreciate the little things or to take the time to slow down.

As Paulo Coelho reminded us: “Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all, or by having everything happen at once.”

Let’s consider the life of a tree, perhaps an oak tree. It starts as a small, frail seedling that is vulnerable to both the elements and hungry predators. Its early survival is tenuous; however, if it can persevere by growing roots and a few leaves, its chances of survival increase with time. It can begin to find nutrients in the soil and begin the process of photosynthesis with just a ew leaves. Over time, as its roots grow deep and wide, it adds branches and more leaves. It will grow tall and learn to store nutrients while shedding its leaves to survive the tough Winter months. As Spring arrives, the oak will bud with new life and prepare to grow for another season.

Surprisingly, the mightiest oak trees do not grow in the best soil and are not always sheltered from extreme weather. The strongest, heartiest oaks grow in the harshest, windiest environments which force them to build deep roots and achieve a girth that can survive the most difficult conditions that nature can provide.

Herein lies important wisdom for weathering whatever life chooses to send our way: patiently enduring the fiercest of storms, bending with heavy winds and rain, feeling the elements’ full force–and then realizing that when the storm has passed, that we are still here, stronger for having survived, and not as fearful of the next storm.

Learning to adapt, continuing to build deeper roots, and knowing that we are constantly growing will allow us to become a mighty oak in all our important roles. In time, we can allow situations and sensations to arise without interpreting or adding conditions, remembering to take careful inventory of resources available to us, to give ourselves credit for our efforts, and to give ourselves the gift of slowing down to notice the beauty around us.

Taking time to enjoy and appreciate all the elements that life may send our way reminds us that it’s okay to take time to recharge and rest. Like the oak, we can also enjoy a cool breeze on a hot day, the much needed rain after a drought; letting go of past problems can be like shedding this years’ leaves to prepare to grow even more leaves in the new year.

Like the acorn that becomes the mighty oak, we too need to nourish ourselves to build strong roots and store energy to survive the long winter months. We can also learn to balance ourselves against the elements that push and pull at us, giving ourselves time to build a deep root system below and sturdy branches above. Having done all this, one day we will be able to provide shade for others and potentially help another acorn to grow its own roots–but for today, we can be grateful that we’re weathering the storms of life and growing stronger with every passing season.

Being Present and Practicing Gratitude

Having acknowledged that we can weather the storms of our lives and learn to balance the expectations we have of ourselves and those that others have of us, let’s return to the subject of the habits of being present and practicing gratitude.

The physiological and psychological benefits of practicing gratitude have been studied and written about extensively. Phrases like, “Take time to smell the roses”, “Remember to taste the tangy salt water at the ocean”, “See the bubbles in a glass of wine as you pour”, “Notice the beauty of the desert as it blooms”, “Hear the innocent laughter of children playing”, “Enjoy the silence of the woods or mountains on a hike”, or “Watch the joy of an older couple still in love” all remind us of the importance of taking a moment to be present.

Slowing down to take note of things around us is the epitome of being present; you might think of it as step one in a process of appreciation and growth. Practicing gratitude takes it a step further: taking time to appreciate and acknowledge what we’re grateful for in our own lives on a regular basis. Some will suggest daily; I might suggest weekly to start. Identify one day of the week that you will take a moment to write down two or three things that you were grateful for during that week; it’s important to be as specific as you can. Every seed of gratitude you plant can lead to a growing abundance of thankfulness and a new cause for celebration.

Consider picking one day of the week (for me it was initially Friday; later I moved it to Sunday) that you can take a moment to make a note of what you’ve been most grateful for that week. Here are a few sources of gratitude to get you started: “We’re still here!” (aka: our health); the love of friends and/or family; our means of making a living (aka: job, food on the table, shelter over our heads); an ardent desire and determination to get up one more time after life tries to knock us down.

Beginning this weekly practice will inevitably leak into a subtle daily practice of being more aware and present. While it may seem trying at first, as you strengthen your gratitude practices, you’ll find your list growing and your spirit of appreciation strengthening. Moreover, when future challenges occur, you’ll be better equipped to stay tethered to your home ground.

Congratulate yourself on planting new seeds and committing to their care. Open yourself up to all the blessings around you, no matter how small. Regardless of how others view you, give yourself credit for your own growth and the work you’ve committed to on behalf of others. Most important, be grateful that you are making the decision to be a better you this year.

Let your tree take root, build a strong foundation and one day become the mighty oak of you!

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