Tree Carvings

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

My father lived on a lake.  Before he built his house near the lake shore, the wooded lot was a favorite picnic and party spot for trespassing revelers.  It had a nice little beach for swimming and its location offered good views of the lake.  There was an giant old beech tree that watched over the place.  It’s smooth bark was covered by the scars of lovers initials, and pronouncements of past visitors.  As is typically the case, one set of carvings beckoned others to follow, and so the majestic old tree was marred by remnants of lovers’ promises.  There was something so sad to me about this beautiful old tree that people chose to cut so deeply.  Though the lovers had come and gone, their markings remained.  In a way this is how many of us relate to the past.  We carve something into a moment and try to keep it from changing.  Though the goal is to have a touch stone to a moment of connection and love, the scars that we create from attachment can haunt us and hinder growth.  How do we honor a moment without holding onto it too tightly?  How do accept the past without having it define us?  I never carved anything into a tree.   I thought that it was somehow an expression of vanity; an insistence that life become stuck in a time that best suited me.  But time doesn’t work that way.  It saunters, it marches, it moves.  We are meant to move with it.  The moment is always right where we are, not where we were or where we hope to be tomorrow.  

When I moved out west I discovered a whole new world in the forests.  I fell in love with madrone trees upon my first encounter.  Their red berries; their strange habit of losing leaves in the summer and holding onto them through the winter; their changing colors, like the skin of a chameleon.  But it is their smooth bark that really captivates me:  It seems so sultry and inviting.  It beckons you to slide your hands over their unashamed form.  One of my favorite madrone trees is an old grandmother that lives beside the trail we follow on our morning walk.  She stands next to the irrigation ditch, so she enjoys plenty of water.  That has encouraged her to grow tall and spread her branches.  One day on my walk, my heart sunk when I noticed that someone had carved their initials into the heart of tree.  It was like a cherished friend had been defiled.  I felt angry and sad that someone could take something so beautiful and change it forever.  I thought about what I would say to the person if I ever discovered who had done such a thing.  But as I watched the tree over the next year, I was delighted to notice that this madrone was gently letting go of the initials.  Unlike the beech tree I grew up with, it was healing the insult without scaring.  It wasn’t defining itself by a moment from the past, it wasn’t stuck in the wound.  Rather quickly the bark again became smooth where the initials had been.  I discovered yet another reason to love this magnificent tree.  The madrone doesn’t seem to hold onto the past.  It exists in each new moment, fresh and alive.  

Sometimes the past is full of pain and disappointment.  Sometimes the past is full of inflated memories that we try to recapture again and again.  Too much attention to either can hold us back, or taint our current situation.  The carvings of the past can be promises of lasting love, or insults and objections.  Either can linger and hijack the present moment.  So how do we let the past inform us without locking us into one set of beliefs or one defined story? Like a tree we are all influenced by our past.  The light coaxes our branches and leaves toward the open spaces, the water and soil nourish our growth.  The wind breaks off branches, and other trees can block our view of the sky.    The structure of the tree is largely determined by its history of sun and rain, but also by what it has let go of.  If the madrone held onto everything that has touched it, it would be like the damaged beech tree from my childhood.  The carvings of life would fester and ultimately rot.  The madrone integrates the past without being a prisoner to it.  It shakes off the scars of being cut by life,  and continues to grow toward the light. The trick is to let life influence our path, but not entirely determine it.  The trick is to notice the past, to welcome its wisdom, but not be a prisoner to yesterday’s experiences.

When I last visited my father’s home I was saddened to find that the old beech tree had reached its end.  It rot from its middle  where the collection of old initials were concentrated. The cuts apparently were too deep and plentiful:  The tree wasn’t able to move past them.  If it could have learned from its madrone cousin how to let life mark on it without holding onto the messages of the past, perhaps it would still be standing tall today.

Harmonizing With Spring Energy

By Lauri McKean, LAc.

Spring! Spring has always been my favorite season.  It feels like a celebration of new life and new possibilities – especially given that I’ve lived much of my adult life in places where winter is colder and darker than the Rogue Valley.  Who doesn’t love the plant kingdom coming to life with flowers beginning to appear, trees budding out, and green spreading through the landscape?

However, I know that the season can also be a bit tricky.  For example, with the increase of Yang energy (active and outward) after the winter’s Yin energy (passive and inward) many of us have a tendency to get too busy and active too quickly.  Perhaps we’re working in our gardens and yards, starting projects, and/or doing more outdoor activities.  Sometimes our bodies aren’t ready for the sudden demands placed on them and it’s helpful if we remember to ease into those first sunny, warm days so as to avoid strain and injury.  

Within the framework of Chinese Medicine, we also recognize that Spring can be tricky in another key way.  This has to do with the fact that this season is associated with the energy of the liver.  Given our fast-paced culture and the high levels of stress that most of us experience, our liver energy tends to be chronically constrained.  

In the clinic, we commonly see liver constraint manifesting as a variety of symptoms including: headaches/migraines, insomnia (especially waking between 1-3am), PMS, menstrual pain, hot flashes, tight tendons and muscles, as well as an increase in feeling frustrated, irritable, stressed and/or angry.  Because the liver energy is so heightened in the spring, these symptoms often appear now or get exaggerated.  Additionally, it is a time when what Chinese Medicine refers to as issues with “wind” get exacerbated.  Seasonal allergies, dizziness and tremors and spasms are examples of “wind” problems.  

Luckily, there are many ways to smooth out the liver energy, calm wind and thus reduce any of the above issues.  Of course, acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbs can be incredibly helpful.  Some “liver-y” people may want to increase the frequency of treatment during this season and changes to herbal formulas might be necessary.  

Additionally, there are many lifestyle changes that can also help with this seasonal transition.  Here are a few that I often recommend.  

  • Exercise regularly.  Although this is important at any time of year, it is especially pertinent in the spring.  Be sure to increase the intensity and amount of time gradually.  
  • Adjust your diet.  Eat lighter amounts and foods than in the winter (ie more greens and sprouts than root vegetables) and be sure to get plenty of water between meals.  
  • Reduce any intake of alcohol.  Alcohol often increases problems with the liver energy.  Reduce or eliminate it – especially if you are waking up in the middle of the night.  
  • Create outlets for releasing frustration/anger.  Allowing frustration/anger to move through you and be expressed has immediate health benefits.  Involve your voice/sounds along with movements.  I recommend this as a practice without other people involved.  Movements might include stomping, pounding a pillow or bouncing/shaking your body.  Sounds might include shouting, moaning or even growling.  (I know this might sound strange but it really works!)

Want to know more?  Check out our Face Book page for upcoming posts about Spring

Beating Up on Yourself

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.


I can be really harRyder Johanson, LAc., MSTOM, JDd on myself.  I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out the healthiest way to eat, the best supplements to take, the best ways to exercise, the best ways to meditate, etc. and I’ve felt great when I’ve met my high standards of what I should be doing on a daily basis. But when I’ve fallen off the wagon, I can work myself into a depression over my believed personal failings or—more often—maybe just a steady, low level of neurotic self-judgment.

Ironically, I can even spend days beating up on myself because I’ve been terrible at positive thinking.  

Self-analysis and criticism can be just what’s needed in many cases—sometimes I need a kick in the butt from a friend or myself to get myself to shift a pattern I’ve been stuck in for awhile. But too much of that can easily turn into a downward spiral of shame and guilt that stops being productive.

According to a whole slew of spiritual teachers and self-help gurus, the antidote to this problem is some variation on the idea of self-love.  The idea is that someone who really loves themself would effortlessly do and say and think all the right things in order to thrive physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Right away it made a lot of sense to me.

But then I ran into a couple problems.  First, it often felt inauthentic.  It felt like a part of me could tell I was just saying nice things to myself in order to trick myself into getting what I wanted.  Obviously, I didn’t really love myself—otherwise I wouldn’t be jumping through all these hoops to try to change myself and convince myself that I love myself.

Second, it didn’t seem like it was working well enough or quickly enough.  It’s great that I love myself now, but why can’t I love myself enough to stick to this way of eating or that meditation schedule.  Isn’t wallowing in self-pity the reason why I’m not good enough in the first place?

So after years of yo-yoing back and forth between periods of self-love and longer periods of oppressive self-judgment, I’ve come across a couple teachings that have helped me break the impasse.

The first is that it’s helpful to recognize that the self-critical part of myself is trying its hardest to help me.  It’s trying to whip myself into shape so that I can get to where I want to go. Moreover, it thinks that if I’m my own harshest critic, maybe I can avoid being criticized and ridiculed by other people.  

I discovered that when I had compassion and understanding for the self-critical part of myself—when I stopped invalidating it and threatening its survival—then it seemed to calm down a bit.  It’s not enough just to love the nice and idealized and “innocent” parts of myself—I also need to show compassion toward the mean and cranky and wounded parts of myself.

The other thing I realized was that I was trying to run a marathon without first training and building up to it.  I would come back from a week of holiday celebrating and indulging and then immediately try to “make up for it” by doing an extreme 30-day cleanse or a radically restrictive food list.  That way of doing things had felt good for me and worked for me in the past, but years of “falling off the wagon” and beating up on myself got me to a point where I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere and I needed a different approach.

What I’ve noticed is that the nicer and gentler and more understanding I am on a daily basis, the easier it is for me to make healthier decisions and establish healthier habits.  Healthy food and exercise and meditation can all be great for you—but not if you’re trying doing it in an almost punishing or abusive way.

As much as I always want to get to the root a of a problem or find that silver bullet solution, for most people being healthier and happier comes as a result of being nicer to yourself on a daily basis and doing little things that build yourself up.  

When you’ve been beating yourself up every day for years and years, it takes some time and practice to re-train your mind to say and believe nicer things.  Realizing that—that it’s a process—has made it much easier to cut myself some slack.

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