June 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 65°F


Figure of Soul: Hug a tree for soul healing

I felt extraordinarily sad and hopeless this week and could not pinpoint what was pressuring my mind and body. It seemed like when everything else was growing inch by inch, I was stuck in one season. Whenever this nihilist side of mine comes up, I usually force myself to go read or sleep. This time, I had more sleep than reading. Fortunately, the small piece I read was worth sharing, especially with my future self when I feel extraordinarily sad and empty again. I also think reading always brings fortune, both at happy and sad times. So, here it is!

The poet May Sarton says, “Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long. … Sit it out. Let it all pass.” After reading it, I thought, “How am I supposed to observe this invisible pain when it is not even bearable?” Then, I stepped back and imagined myself to be a tree — a humble elm tree that I used to pass for almost a decade near my home. It was nothing special — just a tree in a metropolitan city where the weather is strongly continental, meaning it has to survive four seasons. 

It sheds and blooms leaves. It converts carbon dioxide into life-sustaining oxygen and provides shelter for birds and animals. It tries to survive the bitter cold of winter and the heat of summer, creating a space of shadow for hardworking beings. And it has been doing all of these for years and surely many more in the future. How could I see it as not special? How could I see my life as hopeless when it had been trying its best to survive for years? 

As the leaves turn gold and red in the fall, trees stand tall and proud and do not fear the harshness of the coming season. Instead, they accept it and take comfort in knowing they will emerge stronger and more beautiful when spring returns. They encourage themselves: “It might be a little hard to bear, but I will be able to survive even worse than this condition once I endure this.” Once you lose what you had before, see it as a gift to align with nature and practice sustainability of life and happiness. Austin Kleon beautifully illustrates this notion of sustainability of life in his book “Keep Going.” He shows how time is measured not in seconds but heartbeats, not days but sunrises, not weeks, months but moon phases, not quarters but seasons, and not years but the return of spring. We can adopt this perspective to sustain our lives, just as trees do. We are the trees, after all, as all is one! So, the next time the weight of my sadness gets a little too much, I will turn into a tree — maybe journal how the wind rustles through my leaves and the sun warms my bark on a sunny summer day. I will sit with my pain, observe it and let it pass, knowing that I am nurturing the sustainability of my happiness.

FIGURE OF SOUL is a column written by first-year psychology major Ninjin Tumurbat (she/her) that analyzes metaphors. Contact her at ntumurbat@ithaca.edu.