The Daily Groove


Unconditional Presence: The Oak Tree

Imagine a great Oak Tree. It knows where it stands, and it holds powerfully to its position. But it doesn't defend its position — it's simply there.

You can drive a car into the massive trunk of the Oak Tree, and the car will be smashed while the tree remains standing. It's not standing against you, and it doesn't take your destructive behavior personally. It just remains rooted... focused... present. Unconditionally.

Now imagine that you are the Oak Tree... How does it feel to be so powerfully positioned? Isn't it nice to know that no one can uproot you? Would you even bother to resist? Or would you simply relax and enjoy being right where you want to be?

Next time you feel "uprooted" by your child's behavior, emotions, or any other conditions, remember the unconditional presence of the Oak Tree. Stand rooted in the ground of infinite Well-Being.

There is nothing to resist... All is well.

Oak Tree didn't feel so good

I so love your emails, and I'm allowing them to change me a little at a time for the better. I'm wondering, though, how to be an oak tree in this situation: I work from home several hours a day. A sitter comes to the house to care for my four young children. They are free to come in and out and sit with me while I work. Today my three-year-old daughter had an accident in her underwear. She asked me to change her and I told her I was working and she needed to ask the sitter. She proceeded to stand next to me whining, "Change me" for the next ten minutes or so while I didn't respond, feeling I had already responded and didn't want to encourage her badgering. I finally asked the sitter to come get her and change her (during which she threw a huge tantrum). I think I acted like the oak tree but I sure didn't feel like it. I'm not even sure my response was appropriate, and I'd love your feedback.

Perhaps there's more to it...

The oak-tree technique can be applied to any situation, including things that might go against your values (e.g., spanking, ferberizing/CIO, etc.) So it's important to examine the situation with an open mind to make sure you're not inadvertently rooting yourself to a position that you're not entirely in alignment with.

One thing I've learned about small children (and adults too, frankly) is that they often mean something quite different from what they're saying. Perhaps your 3-yr-old was not able to articulate her strong desire to connect with you in particular, relative to the uncomfortable experience of her "accident." Maybe the sitter has negative feelings about changing soiled clothes, and your daughter was picking up on that negativity. Maybe she is sensing the cultural expectation of modesty/privacy relative to nakedness and elimination and feeling awkward about being changed by someone outside the family.

It's difficult if not impossible for a 3-yr-old to express such things, so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. You might feel better about softening your oak tree stance if she could say something like, "The sitter projects a subtle shame vibe when she changes me, so I want you to do it because I feel you accept me unconditionally." But of course she couldn't articulate that.

I think I acted like the oak tree but I sure didn't feel like it.

The oak tree is not a metaphor for how to act, it's a metaphor for how you feel when you are in alignment with your intentions, your inner knowing, and Well-Being in general. You can feel firmly rooted in your Ground of Being even as you move and flex and go with the flow.

You're doing well... Just keep playing with this concept until you feel like an oak tree — even when you're flexing like a... hmmm, don't have a metaphor for that one! :)

See also Rethinking Consistency

Thank You

You know, although you said it better, I came to a similar conclusion after I wrote to you. I wish I had just changed her. I appreciate your mention of the possibility of applying this metaphor to things that would go against my values, and how I wouldn't want to use it that way.

So, thank you. Thank you for this answer and thank you for every essay you send. I need a lot of support for my chosen style of parenting, and you play more than a small role in those efforts.

Analisa, Mama to Meg 12/12/01, Patrick 12/24/03, Catherine 12/24/03, Ben 2/26/06

Re: Thank You

I've heard another tree metaphor. I can't remember the specifics of how it was worded (one place I've heard it was in a country song!), but the point was:

The tree that can bend will not break, while something rigid may break when hit with extreme conditions.

Obviously the tree would stay in its position while bending so it is standing firm, yet able to bend when conditions require it.

How this applies to us is up to us!

Re: Unconditional Presence: The Oak Tree

From a reader:

What about when it's other people's kids behavior, like when they gang up on your son's face with rocket launchers, do you just stand around like an oak tree and do nothing???

You're being too literal... The Oak Tree is a metaphor of your capacity to HOLD A POSITION. A position can be a values statement, like "Children should receive whatever support they need to feel safe and secure." Holding that position will guide your response to the gang-up situation you described. It will help you stay focused on supporting their safety — both your son's and the gang's — instead of resisting the violence. (A subtle but vital distinction, the main difference being that the latter approach makes the gang "wrong" while the former reaches for what's right; see Not Wrong.)