“The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
St. Augustine, City of God
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I love trees. My favorite part is the tip-top, where the branches brush the sky. Last week I became curious about a tree “fact” and did a bit of research. I had heard that a tree’s roots spread down and out as far underground as their branches spread overhead. I pictured a kind of mirror image underground. I wondered if that was true. The answer: not really.
“It is not uncommon to find trees with root systems having an area with a diameter one, two, or more times the height of the tree” according to the Harvard arboretum site. Roots can grow down as far as 33 feet or more “when oxygen, water, and nutrients are available at these depths.”
- “Roots grow where the resources of life are available.” (water, oxygen, minerals, support, warmth)
- In extremely dry areas such as “those trees that manage to survive and grow in the area are characterized by a taproot system that plunges down . . . [sometimes even] 50 ft or more below the surface.”
- “The deeper the roots the more drought resistant a tree is,” says an official Arbor Day blog.
I immediately thought about our own lives and how we’re always reaching and stretching, branch and root, to bring ourselves into balance, to find the nutrients our souls need not just to survive but to thrive. And, of course, that thought presented me with the thought of our lives drawing on whatever we sink our roots into. Souls starve when the resources of life are not available – or when the resources are available but we never plunge our taproots deep enough to access the spiritual water, oxygen, minerals, support, and warmth our souls need.
But life is not conducive to tapping into that depth. “Life in the twenty-first century is often rushed, clumsy, and frustrating, and it is this way because of what we do to one another, and to ourselves. We’re overloaded at work. We’re overwhelmed at home. We’re distracted and we let the door slam on the person behind us, we trip over curbs as we’re texting, we’re running late, we fail to notice,” writes Sarah L. Kaufman in The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life.
We get busy and distracted, and we stay shallow. Or we’re too anxious – or even afraid – to sink our roots deep. It can be dark down there, maybe gritty or sludgy. Maybe the ground under us needs to be aerated or fertilized. Ah, enter the practice of pausing and stilling ourselves, breathing deeply, aerating. Instead of failing to notice, we pay attention to the moment, to what we see, smell, hear, taste, feel. So much of our anxiety comes from rehashing the past or pre-hashing the future. In contrast, most individual present moments offer us peace and at least some small bit of beauty and wonder. Settling into what is around us right now allows us to find that beauty, wonder, and peace.
Some people seem to carry a grace and calm within themselves, even when the “whole world seems upset.” I think that’s because they have sunk a taproot into a deep soul-source of calm, a strength they consistently draw on. Strong roots help a tree survive storms. Strong roots form the support system that frees branches to reach up and out and into the sky.
May you sink your roots deep into the soil of peace and lovingkindness.
Nourish peace, cultivate loving kindness, and carry the calm.
Nature photo of the week – roots and moss:
Shadow of the Week – shadow and silhouette:
Text and photos © 2016 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.