Note: The second half of this article, entitled The Secret Of Standing Like A Tree: For Your Kids will appear in next Tuesday’s blog post.
Recently I heard about a Ted Talk in which a social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, spoke about how your body stance physically affects how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. Furthermore, by taking on a power pose for two minutes before stressful situations and “faking it until you make it,” your body will reconfigure your mind and you will engage with more presence and self-confidence (whether you feel that it’s false or not), and folks will perceive that presence and respond to it positively.
Even if you think you’re faking your behavior, what’s happening is that your true self shines (you’re inventing the behavior after all), and folks will respond to that. Furthermore, by persevering in this way over time, you stop “faking it” and actually become “it”–which is nothing less than being your true self with others. If you suffer from a lack of confidence at times, this is a big “Wow!”
By all means, watch this Ted Talk with Amy Cuddy, Your Body Shapes Who You Are.
So, one day recently I was feeling pretty discouraged and overwhelmed, and none of my usual grounding and centering methods were helping–at least, not for very long. I finally tuned into what my inner compass had been quietly repeating for the last hour: “Go outside, go outside, go outside,” and I surrendered to that.
I headed out to a circle of Douglas-fir trees in my field that serve as a council of Elders for me. I just stood in their circle, listening to the chickadees in their branches, and found my eyes drawn to those branches. I considered how those branches are like joyful, uplifted arms. In fact, in a song we sing with kids at the Vashon Wilderness Program we hold up our arms for Doug-fir just like in one of the power poses (the Y pose that expresses pride, and which folks will do instinctively in exhilaration when they achieve a huge victory).
And actually, as I look at Doug-fir, I notice that his arms are slightly relaxed in his up-raise. As I imitate Doug-fir, I sense not the thrusting up in victory “Yes!” posture (though I do think some trees–perhaps young Alder–do this. I’ll have to check!). No, it’s a strong, openhearted feel, like opening one’s arms with absolute love and joy to receive a child into a welcoming embrace. And such strength! Just the amount you’d need when a child who, overjoyed to see you, may plow like a locomotive against you in their enthusiasm!
So, what might it be like to stand like Doug-fir, filled with Doug-fir’s strength and generosity, my branches–er, arms–open in uplifted welcome? How might that change my presence with myself when I feel overwhelmed, wanting to create and accomplish, but finding myself held back by … too many demands (often from myself), not enough time (often related to the first problem), and … [fill in the blank]. According to Amy Cuddy, just two minutes in a stance can change your presence. Imagine what might happen if you stood like your favorite tree of a strong stance before tackling a project or engaging in a situation around which you felt a lack of clarity and confidence?
Even more, imagine what might happen if you spent time with that tree, practiced its presence while being in its presence. Heck, let’s not just imagine, let’s find out.
How to experience the Deeper Secrets of Standing Like Your Tree.
- Inventory of You. Notice how you feel right now. No judgment. Don’t feel like you need to change anything. Just be with how you are. How do you feel physically? Where are the discomforts? How do you feel emotionally? Where do you feel your emotions? Just be with how you are.
- Choose your favorite tree of a strong stance. If you get bogged down with “choice” (“How can I choose a favorite?!”), just go outside and pick the nearest sturdy upright tree to you. … Or let a tree choose you! … Or choose the tree in the photo above!
- Appreciate your tree. What do you notice about it? Like about it?
- Be with your tree. Go to it, and stand or sit beside it. Or, if you can’t physically be with the tree, call it to mind, spirit, body as if it was really there before you. Imagine it fully. Take as long or as short as you like with any of the above steps.
Open Your Senses:
- Notice what you hear. If you’re imagining your experience of the tree, don’t worry if you’re making everything up, or “getting things wrong”. The qualities that come forth for you however they emerge will have their own wisdom for you.
- Use your other senses. What does it feel like? Smell like? Its bark, its needles or leaves, its roots, its branches? What are the smells? Any drops of resin on that tree? Smell and touch that. If you know for absolute certain that a leaf, needle, flower, or nut of your tree is edible, and know that its safe to eat (no chemicals sprayed on it, more than 50 feet from traffic, no or minimal heavy metals or other pollution in the soil, etc.) you can taste it too (if you’re not sure, then don’t!).
- Take time with your tree. Take 3 minutes if you can, experiencing that tree and feeling how your body feels just being near that tree. Notice any thoughts or memories that come up. Observe them as if they are clouds in the sky. Don’t have 3 minutes to spare for this? Then just do it for 1!
- Now, stand like your tree for 2 full minutes. If you feel too exposed (gack, what will the neighbors think?!), then thank the tree (see #2 in the next section), and go somewhere private to stand.
- What was that like? How do you feel now in body-mind-spirit? Anything surprise you during your experience? Take a little time with this if you can.
- Thank the tree. It’s an ancient practice (and modern too with some folks!) to thank a tree (or other nature-being) after taking time with it, taking from it, or receiving in other ways from it. Ancient ways have a lot to teach us about well-being and knowing ourselves to be at home in our world, so just try this practice and see how it feels to you.
- Go off and do your next task. Be like your tree as you do it! Any differences in how you feel or do it? No wrong answers here!
These are just suggestions. Don’t get hung about whether you’re approaching this exercise the “right” way. Don’t worry if you do only #3 “Take time with your tree” of the Opening Your Senses section, or if you take just half a minute to stand like your tree. That’s fine too. As my Cherokee medicine ways/plant energy medicine teacher Nunutsi Otterson likes to say: “You can only do this right.”
Please share your experiences in the comment box below!
Next time: The Secret Of Standing Like A Tree: For Your Kids