French scientists who study the world’s drought-ravaged trees have discovered that they can tell the tree’s dehydration by placing a microphone to the trunk. What they hear from the water-starved wood are knock-knock sounds, tiny little bubbles that are breaks in the column of water traveling up the tree’s circulatory system. The roots cannot absorb enough liquid from the ground to draw up a continuous stream of hydration. It’s like the canopy of leaves at the top of the forest floor is sucking water from a straw to draw up the last dregs of water at the bottom.
We too, when dehydrated from our own wellsprings are prone to parching.
I lead a monthly resilience community call and today’s student, having experienced a series of life changes -- a relocation, a health crisis, and loss of community -- was feeling isolated and alone. Water-starved, in a mind-altering state of emotional dehydration, she believed the only water available must be sourced from her own oasis: I am alone. I must do this alone. I don’t feel the people I love support me. The problem was, as she spiralled downward in despair and loneliness, her roots could not absorb enough liquid from within and she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, reach out to others because she didn’t want to burden them.
Me too. Last year during my own series of unpredictable hardships, while walking the labyrinth on Land’s End, a nature trail near my home, I felt a wave-like surge of emotional energy roll upward through my body like an undulating wave rolling across the sea, so powerful and unstoppable my body unfurled like a rippling ribbon in the Pacific wind as it whipped across the coastline. What emerged was a torrent of uncontrollable tears and with them a guttural, primal cry of the wounded heart. Water-starved, I needed hydration. I needed a direct line to a deep ancient wellspring.
As a resilience mentor, I know how to source wellbeing from my own wellspring - I am a Jedi master of self-coaching. But on this particular afternoon my root system could not, would not, draw up liquid nourishment, and as my right brain hemisphere began to rapidly scan a visual rolodex of friends, my left hemisphere simultaneously vetoed each possibility with the excuse of burden: she just had a baby, she is due to deliver her baby, she is out of the country, she has breast cancer, she is suffering from depression. I dismissed each friend’s capacity to support me during my time of need through a subjective arbitrary algorithm: their suffering + my burden = their capacity. Before I even considered asking for help I exiled them believing I cannot, should not, burden them. What rolled out of my body that afternoon on the edge of the ocean cliff was a hidden belief I had locked away in a secret room when I was a small child: I am a burden.
We entered the world with a direct line to divinity. Created from the particles of the cosmos, we were radiant infant-orbs of light sourcing our energy directly from the universe. As toddlers we had a 360-degree personality. Without effort and unself-consciously we walked with wonder, innocence and curiosity emanating light and love from the pores of our body. We shimmered. At no time did we conceive a thought that we could ever, would ever, be a burden.
Poet Robert Bly describes this beautifully, “A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball.” And when our parents or grandparents, teachers or siblings told us they didn’t like certain parts of our energy we quietly, quickly, unceremoniously took that now-deemed-damaged part of ourselves and locked it away in a secret little room with a tiny key and forgot about it. Or as Bly suggests, we stuffed the undesirable parts of ourselves in an invisible bag.
Each of us have parts of ourselves that are hidden from us. Any part that we have locked up, dammed up, repressed, or denied begins to take on tremendous energy. We begin to notice these put-away parts when a new relationship -- a lover, a colleague, a close friend-- calls them into our awareness, or when a series of unfortunate events pushes us past our edge and into the wilderness. These events and these relationships call forth the shadow so we can clearly see the parts we’ve locked away, the parts of us that need releasing.
These shadow aspects, these abandoned and forgot parts of ourselves, since their imprisonment, have had little to do but plot escape, so when the shadow is released we must engage it in conversation tenderly, patiently, curiously. We must realize this shadow is integral to the wholeness we desire, part of us long forgotten that needs remembering. We must form a kindred relationship with our missing part and come to care for it, nurture it, love it and accept it.
As my missing part, my forgotten shadow, undulated through my body and purged out my mouth through my primordial scream I realized that to deny myself support from loved ones was to deny loved ones the opportunity to request support from me. Like a grove of trees in an old-growth forest, our roots are interconnected, knitted together over the decades through tender reciprocity, love and kindness. Our collective hardships were weathered together as a coalesced ecosystem of choice. When my interior wood is water-starved, my grove of sisters send life-giving liquid nourishment to my roots.
In an ecosystem every living organism is connected, there is no isolation, and therefore, no singular burden; we all work together, tending to the thirstiest among us, each in turn as the drought-ravaged tree sends out her request for support. But we must send our SOS. We must lay down our mantle of solitary singularity and source our nourishment from our ecosystem. We must send out our request to our entire grove, trusting that those who have surplus will answer our call, and as we draw up the sweet elixir of liquid love we will open our new leaves to the sun and shimmer once again in our true nature.