Look to Nature
Posted on 31st August 2022 at 21:16
As we head into Autumn, we note the changing foliage of the trees which heralds the seasonal change for the trees and also for us as their observers. Ordinarily, it can be an anxious time of year for many. For primary school students and parents, there is the anxiety of starting school or new teachers, perhaps a class reshuffle and generally wondering how their youngster will get on. There is the scurry of getting new books, new uniforms and the costs entailed which may be a challenge in itself. Parents and Leaving Cert students try to negotiate exam results, repeat studies, college offers, accommodation hunts and the general next steps of new beginnings. While some parents welcome the return to school and the break from ‘one hundred and one ways to entertain the kids,’ others suffer huge separation anxiety at this time of year, every year. At some stage during Autumn, the tourism industry winds down and the ‘back season’ begins. Rural tourism areas adjust to the lack of people and activity and while welcomed by some, it represents a significant struggle for others. Farmers, on the other hand, look forward to the yield of harvest time and the rewards of all their effort and toil since early Spring.
This particular Autumn, we face significant increases in the cost of living and concerns regarding energy shortages. There seems to be no let up in the amount of challenges and bad news. Faith in leadership has taken a hit. Where can we turn to for hope and inspiration?
I have always believed in the healing power of time spent in nature but it is also somewhere where we can find inspiration and hope. The German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Dürer, advised us to look to nature, regard her well and take her as our guide. The trees that are changing their colour and their evergreen counterparts, are resilient and defy obstacles in their path, often growing around them such that the obstacle becomes part of the tree. Trees that shed their leaves do so in a spectacular display of colour as if to tell the world, “we are okay with this, it’s part of our cycle and we will be clothed in green splendour once again in the spring. In the meantime, our bareness is our rest but just watch how we carry that snow!” If anyone doubts that trees have a life of their own, just accompany arborist Thomas Pakenham’s journey with trees, beautifully and photographically chronicled over four volumes from the first Meetings with Remarkable Trees over twenty years ago. Note too, how cinema has utilised trees to great affect across the genres from Harry Potter to Guardians of The Galaxy to The Christmas Tree.
I like how the late British journalist, Deborah Orr, summarised the benefit of looking to nature in an article about time spent in nature:
“Nature reminds us that we are a small part of something vast, complex, ever-evolving and infinitely precious. It reminds us that, as part of this system, we are precious too.” 
Every now and again we get reminders of this, that we are not in charge, that there are elements and living things that are more powerful than us. It is the 'ever evolving' aspect that holds great promise. If we consider that humans are still only using a very small portion of brain and lung capacity, how much more evolved must we yet become? What will drive forward this evolution?
In the work of Sigmund Freud, we see a ‘psychical tree’ that branches in two, one branch dealing with the survival of the race (via the sexual instincts), the other branch dealing with the survival of the individual (via the ego instincts). Carl Jung believed that the tree symbolises the ‘growth and development of psychic life.’ Such psychic growth is not under the control of conscious effort or willpower but occurs involuntarily and naturally hence symbolised [in dreams] by the tree, ‘whose slow, powerful and involuntary growth fulfils a definite pattern.’ He uses the metaphor of the seed of a mountain pine which contains the blueprint of the tree it is to become. This is dependent on environmental factors and climate to which the seed slowly responds in order for the tree to take form. In humans, Jung calls the process individuation and it is what makes us unique. 
Alfred Adler relies heavily on the tree as a metaphor in his description of what he termed ‘style of life’:
“The style of life of a tree is the individuality of a tree expressing itself and molding itself in an environment. We recognize a style when we see it against a background of an environment different from what we expect, for then we realize that every tree has a life pattern and is not merely a mechanical reaction to the environment."
In contrast to Freud, where the success of childhood development shapes who and what we become in the present, Adler placed huge significance on being drawn to the future through our goals, purposes and ideals through a process called ‘teleology.’ 
Perhaps Erik Erikson’s studies of psychosocial influences on ego development achieved a unification of Freud and Adler’s views by suggesting that an individual is pushed by their own biological urges and pulled by socio-cultural forces. 
In any case, we can all agree that the tree is very much a symbol of life and of human development. It is incorporated in the logo for Time and Space Psychotherapy for this reason. A tree’s strength lies in the foundations of its roots, its tenacity in the face of challenge and its comfort in its own skin, irrespective of the season that is in it. In that it is inspirational. The tree knows there will be sunshine after rain and that spring will follow winter. In that it is a symbol of hope. So as Dürer advised, let us look to nature, regard her well and take her as our guide.
If you are struggling with any aspect of life right now, get in touch here.
 Jung, C.G Man and His Symbols 1964. Aldus Book, London. p 159-167
 Adler, A. Understanding Human Nature 1992. Oneworld Publications Ltd. p. 69-76
 Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society 1973, Penguin p. 13 and p. 58-9
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