Taproots and Soul Survival: Weathering the Winds of Life
"God sent me an angel
She came down from above
When I really wasn't looking
I had no use for love
And I could not paint a picture
Of what it was like to receive
I'd just been hanging on
To patterns I believed"
"But then the world was made over
To something I had never seen
And the stars in the heavens
They came shining down on me
And everything looked different
There was no one that I knew
And this world will never be the same
Since I met you"
"You see I thought I knew myself quite well
And I was really satisfied
Because I finally found a path to tread
Which was no longer lies
But then out of the mystery
When I did not seek to find
God sent me an angel
The healing kind"
"With new love, old sorrow is uncovered
Pain you thought you'd left behind
But if it goes undiscovered
It can rob your soul and steal your mind"
— Tim Harrison, "God Sent Me An Angel" from his Bridges CD
The Willow Tree and the Maple Tree
About fifteen years ago, I lived in a house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. In my back yard were many trees of distinction. Two were particularly prominent — a large willow tree and a not quite as large, but more compact maple tree. I had been told that willow trees grew large quickly and that their wood was not very dense. Their roots were far reaching, but fragile and shallow. I could see them creeping through my lawn and the adjacent property. The maple tree, on the other hand, grew more slowly. And accordingly, its wood was more dense with a taproot that went deep into the ground.
One evening a very strong hurricane arrived with powerful winds that shook all the trees in town. I remember being awakened from my sleep by the wailing of the winds and the quaking of the trees. I looked out my window, and saw the willow tree swinging back and forth, being taken by the winds. Its shallow roots were no match for the power of the storm, and I ran for cover in my bed as I watched it falling over, praying to God that it would hit the ground without taking down the roof of my house. I closed my eyes and clutched my stuffed animal in terror as I felt the house shake and heard the tree come crashing down. I looked out my window and saw it coming towards me, like a rocket ship. But God was watching over me, and the fallen willow just brushed the side of my window before landing next to my house on the ground.
I thanked God for sparing my life and my house, curled up and went to sleep. I awoke once again to a bolt of lightning cracking and sizzling in my yard. In the morning, the storm had passed and it was safe to go outside to see what had broken. As I marveled at the tumbled willow tree on the ground, with its huge, elaborate shallow root system unveiled in the air, I realized the bolt of lightning had hit the maple tree. It had survived the winds that took my willow, held steady by its deep taproot. The bolt of lightning had claimed one of its biggest branches. My backyard was a battlefield and my trees were its casualties. The willow had been lost in the battle, while the maple was simply injured but still vital and alive.
What a metaphor the trees gave me for my own human journey. While we have no control over the winds of life, we can learn from the maple about the importance of having a taproot. Not only does the taproot act as a primary source of nourishment for the tree, but also it provides a grounding, an anchor, a primary source of support to help withstand the winds of life.
The Power of One
Several years later, God brought me a human taproot. Having had a painful experience with a bodyworker who transgressed professional boundaries as I lay in a child state of consciousness on his table, I sought counseling to heal from this traumatic experience. Through this tragic circumstance, I was given a profound gift. I was led to the office of Bob DeIulio, a very unique, wise and heartfull psychologist and bodymind therapist, who became my personal therapist, supervisor and mentor until his retirement in 1996.
Bob had a special ability to see into my soul, to hold my vision with me even as I struggled to bring it to life. He provided a taproot for me as I went through many critical passages in my life. Most of my primary relationship people found themselves in Bob's office for counseling and guidance. I cared deeply about working things out, and knew Bob would allow me and those close to me to do just that.
Bob was there for me through thick and thin, through victories and losses, through good and bad. We struggled at times in our relationship, but in the end his love and honesty prevailed, and so did the depth of our bond. Could I have achieved all the landmarks I reached without his faith and presence in my life? Having to end a deep, long-term and significant relationship is challenging and demanding in the best of circumstances. As timing had it, Bob's retirement coincided with the birth of my son, so I did not have the psychic energy for over two years to complete the relationship and face the magnitude of my loss.
I found myself wavering and lost, facing life's vicissitudes on my own, sometimes falling, sometimes left for dead. It took a long, long time for me to dig myself out of the hole that the loss of my taproot created in my life. In the end, I was really the maple tree. But for the longest time, I felt like the willow. Through Bob's guidance and presence, I had slowly deepened the taproot within myself.
Partnership as a Creative Force
For the human soul to function at the least and certainly to thrive, it needs a special kind of partner. This partner provides a relational taproot: one person fully committed to the other through thick and thin, rooting for their happiness and their full self-expression in life. This special partner listens to the other's journey and provides whatever support is needed to the best of their ability, helping the other move forward towards their highest vision on their path.
To pursue any creative endeavor we need a source of emotional and spiritual support and nourishment. Just as baby animals cling to their mothers for shelter, nourishment and guidance as they grow and evolve into more self-defined and autonomous beings, new and emerging parts of ourselves and our creations need such a harbor. A committed "other" can hear our vision as it evolves and clarifies, can hold that vision even in moments when we lose faith, and can mirror back essence when we feel lost and forget who we are. Knowing someone is there for us, day in and day out, provides a safe, secure root system that allows us to take risks and spread our wings.
A woman I know shared with me a quote from author Carla McLaren. "Suicide is the soul's last resort when everything else in life has stopped working." When we are disconnected from ourselves and from others, when we are alone in the dark and can find no hand to hold or path to walk on, we are like the willow tree, uprooted, and left on the battlefield to die.
Growing a Taproot
We can find relational taproots in many places. Some of us are fortunate enough to have grown up in healthy enough families that our parents or siblings are safe and constant sources of emotional, spiritual and practical support. For others of us, a teacher, a mentor or a therapist can become that primary creative partner, providing committed presence and guidance over time as we deepen our own sense of self. Life partners and deep friends can also hold each other in this central way. The awareness that we need at least one other human being totally committed to our well-being allows us to find or recognize a relational taproot, whatever role that person might play in our lives.
Sometimes we consciously seek such a person out. And at other times the person appears out of the mystical, as songwriter Tim Harrison so beautifully expresses in his song, "God Sent Me an Angel." What is most important is that we can recognize, receive and collaborate with such a special person, letting down our defenses in a culture that teaches us we must do it alone.
We are often afraid of letting another person help us or guide us so deeply for fear that we will be hurt, become dependent or lose our power. The paradox is without soul level support, we will not realize our fullest potential, and be shielded from unnecessary harm or heal from hurts past. To become the fullest selves God meant us to be and therefore, the most personally effective, we need the guidance and contributions of other people. No one was meant to do it all alone.
And of course, we need not be limited to one support person. Over the years, I have discovered that finding coaches for anything I want to develop or improve is invaluable. As a mom, I have seen how coaches and mentors can ease the learning curve for my five year old son as he ventures into new skills, activities and avenues in the world. Having someone there to guide him helps him keep trying when the going gets tough and ultimately build self-esteem.
And when we have the privilege of building long standing alliances, we become strong like the maple tree and better able to weather the winds of life. Because of the taproot Bob offered me, I am able to reach out for support, trust that others can coach and guide me, and also be quiet and sit with myself. May we all be so fortunate.
Linda Marks, MSM, is a body-centered psychotherapist practicing in Newton. Author of Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart (Knowledge Systems, 1988), she leads classes on Creating the Life You Want from the Inside Out. She is working on her new book Embodying the Soul: Dancing Into Life. You can reach her at (617)965-7846 or LSMHEART@aol.com. Visit www.healingheartpower.com.