One of my favorite trees at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has branches that rest on the ground all around its base.
These branches resting on the ground are very beautiful to me – as if it’s propping itself up to stay upright.
The novelty of it delights me and brings me comfort.
When most of us think of a “tree” we imagine roots at the base, a trunk that rises upwards and branches reaching up towards the light.
Like this: 🌳 🌲🌴 right?
This tree, however, also reaches down.
It doesn’t conform to the predictable, archetypal pattern of “tree” and that makes it all the more beautiful, magical and special to me.
I love the reminder that we are simply not all meant to be the same, look the same, think the same.
There is no one right way to show up in the world.
Our individual, unique, varied expressions of life are deeply beautiful.
There’s not only one way to have a healthy conversation.
There’s not only one way to express empathy.
There’s not only one way to heal.
There’s not only one way to love.
There’s not only one way to play.
There’s not only one way to be free.
And, there isn’t one right way to grow, or learn or explore.
I used to love traveling to new places where I could discover new foods, new customs, new traditions, new places. I would delight in local cafes, local shops, small unique places with personality and quirkiness.
These days, I drive past constant marketing, billboards, messaging: the same boring, stifling franchises everywhere.
I sometimes feel like I am suffocating in sameness all around me.
Even when I went through graduate school – first in education, and then in psychology – so much emphasis was put on being “normal” and learning, healing or growing in the “right” way. Stated training goals specifically included “socializing” students into the profession.
I’ve always felt wary of the fine line between including and indoctrinating.
During my doctoral program, one of my clinical supervisors and I had deeply divergent theoretical orientations and we’d often discuss the relative merits and drawbacks of each of our opposing approaches. I found this engaging and interesting.
However, when she completed my performance evaluation, she rated me low on being “open to alternative points of view.” My people-pleasing self had a painful realization: apparently, I hadn’t conformed enough to her points of view. I wasn’t being “socialized” successfully. The point wasn’t to think critically together, the point was to privilege her (more correct) viewpoint and submit to her authority.
Sometimes, tree branches grow down and touch the ground instead of reaching only upwards.
The pressures to conform in many of these systems are great, and the price you pay for being different can be very high.
Socially constructed concepts like “normal” and “right” can be devoid of wisdom and deeply problematic when they are used as tools of domination and control.
I wonder what people in conformity-based systems with cookie-cutter templates and benchmarks would have done to that gorgeous tree?
Propped up its branches?
Cut them off and pruned them so that the “right” branches could grow upwards in the “right” direction”?
Would that tree’s desire to grow down, to reach the ground, to make contact in non-conventional ways have been seen as “unhealthy”?
Diagnosable? Something that needed to be “treated” and “fixed”?
Instead of blindly conforming to normal, healthy, or right as our varied cultures define them, remember to reach for what is beautiful. Inspiring. Vibrant.
Ultimately, systems are just a set of (often unexamined) agreements between people who participate in them and perpetuate them.
We can change our agreements.
What wisdom does your heart have for you these days?
Where are you being called to novelty, creativity or an alternative, new or better way of doing something?
Celebrate and reach for what is beautiful, not for what is normal.
Keep your heart vibrant and alive, not dulled, conforming and afraid.
Trust that your heart has far more wisdom than your socialization.