A small, wounded Oak represented for me the state of damage in our world and served as a reminder to respect, connect and keep going.
There is an Oak tree on the bridle path near my home. It is a small Oak at the edge of a field which catches the light beautifully on bright days. The field can be covered in mist and is a good place for deer to gather early morning. When I see these fields I feel myself calm; as the bridle path emerges from between woodland and opens up, so too my eyes, my breath and my lungs open and widen my inner and outer perspective.
This small Oak was my destination when I started running some years ago, the point I could just about reach before needing to stop and take a breath. Grateful for this sturdy tree to stretch against I would enjoy the view and the rest before turning round and running home again.
Over time it became the half-way point, I could run further on and into the woods beyond before turning round. It became the point from which I knew I could run all the way home without stopping (it is an almost continuous downward slope back home from that Oak!)
Late spring or early summer last year the trees, shrubs and hedges along either side of the bridle path were given a hard trim. Jagged, spiky, sharp edges appeared. How harsh it looked. In that moment it felt very much like our world with COVID: the destruction, injury, loss and severe force of mutilation. The broken pieces left behind, discarded, strewn across the path, not collected and tidied away.
Our world felt similarly wounded, damaged, disorganised and imperfect.
Then I reached the small Oak. It had not escaped the hedge cutter. Low on its trunk the evidence in three sizable gashes. Three pieces of shorn bark lay alongside the wounded tree and I felt an irrational grief. A huge, metal machine had rampaged clumsily and carelessly, rather like the COVID virus, not caring what it took in its task to cull and remove unwanted growth. It seemed unfair, harsh, and careless. I saw a parallel between this damage and the damage to our world.
This experience led me, as this bridle path often does, to reflect. The identifying of a parallel process of one’s (outer) environment reflecting one’s (inner) psychological experience makes way for exploration, expression, articulation. It brings opportunity to open our mind, our view and draw on external information to bring understanding and meaning which can then relieve us of our internal struggle.
This little Oak’s wounds stayed exposed over the coming weeks and months, its fallen bark stayed upon the ground. I looked for evidence of healing; I still felt an irrational empathy. It continued to stand tall.
Our world continued to receive wounds and suffer losses. Some continued to stand tall, carry on, find new ways to manage and adapt; some fell. Unlike the natural world, we are better used to tidying up, clearing away the mess, the fallen parts of ourselves and our loved ones. We conceal these, not able perhaps to bear living with evidence of our failings. Not comfortable with our imperfections and weaknesses.
Therapy reflects on these inner and outer parallel experiences. We pay attention to the fragmented, broken and damaged parts. We sift through; consider the evidence, the experience and the mess. We sort through the disorder and find order, there too balance, acceptance and a greater sense of ourselves.
As I use the Oak to lean against to stretch and support myself, therapy offers a secure base for you to lean against whilst you find your balance. Like this small Oak, I aim to hold firm for you, offering boundaries, acceptance, rooted in theory and experience and reaching up, guiding you towards your strengthening, healing and potential.
This small Oak , many months on, appears none-the-worse for its grazes, its broken pieces still scattered at its base. It stands tall and strong as Oaks are inclined to do.
We can appear the same to those looking on. Our scars are not usually visible and our discarded parts cannot be seen scattered about our feet. Our scars are on the inside and whilst we might only ever be seen standing, the damage is no less there.
My experience of this small Oak, its wounds and its majesty, reminds me of therapy. I see in you, my client, your wounds, your losses, your experiences and how you reach up, tentatively or forcefully, to find ways to keep going.
Like this little Oak, we are not made less-than because of our pain, we are made more-than. Given time we are made stronger, more capable, more experienced, more compassionate, more understanding, wiser, more respectful, humbled, deeper, stronger.