Day 18: What a Willow Tree Can Teach Us About Resilience

Sally-Anne, 09.10.20

Welcome to Day 18 of 21 Days on the Mountain. In our Power of Pause practice today we’re taking a moment of calm on a woodland track surrounded by Alpine trees. 

And I began to contemplate their different qualities, and what they can teach us in times when we might feel unstable, ungrounded and a little bit lost. The strength and solidity of the oak. The tall but elegant vulnerability of the pine tree. And the resilience of the willow, which each year gets flattened by heavy snowfall, but in the Spring bounces back, unbending, unfurling, becoming erect again, yet swaying and moving in the high winds. 

One of the pillars of Mindful Command in our Evolving Leadership programme is that of Inner Stability. The ability to be grounded yet flexible, to respond more easily to whatever life throws in our path, and to bounce back with resilience and a lightness of being. Perhaps of all the qualities that we need as a leader, and there are many, resilience is one that we might ensure we cultivate. 

So join me for today’s video as we take a moment to pause, focus and breathe, and to reflect on how we can learn to bend and flex rather than be too rigid and inflexible. To be more willow. 

Video Transcript

Hello and welcome back to 21 Days On The  Mountain, a chance for us to pause together, for a few minutes. So today is Day 18, and I’m standing on a track about half a kilometer as the crow flies from the waterfall you can see behind me, the Cascade du Rouget, the Queen of the Alps. Getting into its full power, still some way to go, and even half a kilometer away it’s still pretty loud. And to my left I’m looking at a stump of a tree, perhaps a beech tree I think that’s been cut off, you’d think perhaps that it’s dead and yet all manner of things are growing from its root. Its roots seem still to have force and life in them. And on my right I’m looking up at a canopy of beech trees coming into leaf among the coniferous pine trees, the deciduous trees are starting to kind of fill the forest out with their colour and life. 

So as I was walking up this track and noticing the trees, I started to think about the quality of trees. So quite obviously what they all have in common, deciduous and coniferous, whatever type of tree they are, what they all have in common are their roots. Now different forms of root, some go really deep, some are more shallow, but they all are rooted. They all have a degree of stability. They’re all in some way grounded. 

So when I’m feeling unstable, ungrounded, kind of a little bit lost, I find it really helpful just to look at a tree. And when I do that, and I take some time over it, I might kind of look into the tree, so to speak, a little bit more deeply, and look at its qualities. So if I’m looking at an oak tree, I see something, you know, strong and sturdy and solid, majestic. Usually if it’s big and broad, very old, it somehow embodies a wisdom to it. 

When I look at a pine tree I see something elegant, tall, a softer wood, more vulnerable perhaps, beautiful, erect. And then when I come across one, and they are here, higher up the mountain, if I find a willow tree now that’s when I always stop. There’s something about a willow tree, something about its capacity for resilience, that I find really helpful. Let’s look at it for a moment. 

So here in the Alps, we have you know, a lot of snow, and with snow and certain conditions come avalanches. And what I find interesting at the end of a winter when we walk into, onto the higher ground, is that you’ll see willow trees that have been totally flattened by a bombarding avalanche, slowly lifting themselves back up, unbending, unfurling, becoming erect again. Swaying and moving in the high winds up top. Extraordinarily resilient. 

And what’s also interesting is that the willow trunk, the wood is what cricket bats are made of, particularly English willow for some reason. But cricket bats are made from English willow – it’s hard enough, strong enough, to be resistant to a very fast-moving hard cricket ball. It won’t splinter easily, it won’t dent easily. And yet what I find really interesting about all of that is that it’s also very light. 

So how can something like a tree be, have the qualities if you like, of the oak, and some of the qualities of the pine, and keep a lightness, a lightness of being, which enables it to respond and bend and flex with every incoming shock. 

So I find it helpful to look at the willow tree and ask myself: how resilient am I actually? In this moment, am I trying to be strong, am I forcing myself into a kind of a strong, hard position? Am I being tall and elegant and soft and graceful? How resilient am I actually? And heaven knows, in any crisis, in any prolonged crisis like this one, perhaps of all the qualities that we need, and there are many, resilience is one that we might seek to cultivate. And if we wonder what that means, let’s look at the qualities of the willow tree, and as best we can be more willow.

So in this two minutes today that we share in silence, perhaps we might   contemplate that, or something associated with that. Think of a tree, any tree that you might pass on your daily walk, or if not, one that you can conjure or bring to mind. And look at it more deeply. What tree do I want to be today? And bringing your awareness into this space, between the sternum and the navel, and bringing your awareness simultaneously, if you like, to your breath, bringing a consciousness to your breath, a sense of unity and connection with your breath, a wholeness. 

And I’m going to close my eyes as I always do. Breathing in. And breathing out. Gentle, supple, resilient breath, this life-giving force. And now in silence for two minutes. 

Pause…

And when you’re ready, on your next breath, gently open your eyes. 

So what tree did you choose? And what kind of tree do you want to be, or become? What are the qualities that you want to cultivate? While all the time remembering that all trees are grounded.

Thank you for joining me today. Have a grounded day as best you can, and in those moments when that feels hard, remember – you can always pause.

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