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Lessons from Live Oaks

Updated: Mar 29



As a native of the Midwest, I am used to long ass winters. The kind that begin with the fiery leaves of fall and surprise us with three feet of snow in April. The months marked by gray skies and snow pants, bare trees and long pauses before new leaves. Witnessing the winters of my childhood taught me a surprising lesson on loss I didn't recognize until recently: change really can take its own damn time. As a neurocounselor and lifestyle doctor, I've become quite the student of change. While my work has taught me many things, one of the most important lessons is this: C​​hange contains two phases: ​​mourn and move on. And we humans tend to skip to the moving on long before we've given ourselves proper time to mourn. ​​We'd much rather move onto the Next Big Thing than to sit in the space between The Things where mourning allows us to let go of what has been to open our palms to hold what will be. Despite our best efforts to speed toward our destinies, change remains the same. ​​To get to the move on, there must be a mourning. And the lesson I learned during those Midwestern winters was that change can be very very slow. Between the bountiful harvest of the fall and the beautiful buds of spring, there is a settling period. Six months of quiet, rest, and dormant recovery that is important, necessary, and good. But slow wintering is something I never learned to do well. ​​Unlike our Nordic neighbors, I seem hard-wired to hate the stalled silence of cold weather and my neurotic predilection for busyness makes me a bit scared to slow down. I never settled into the long stretches of leave-less trees and sunless skies, which is likely why I ended up moving south with no immediate plans to travel north anytime soon. Although I never mastered them, I'm indebted to my childhood winters because they taught something Southerners never learn: one way or another, change will take the time it takes. Learning to succumb to the weather is humbling and I personally believe it makes us more human. I've also noticed that southern culture lacks the appreciation and respect, the resiliency and the patience that comes from being forced to continually change with forces beyond our control. Wintering teaches us to set aside productivity and proclivities long enough to ​recognize our humanly limits and surrender to the losses of winter trusting that eventually the newness of spring will come. Still, those changes come slowly if you don't live in the South, and sometimes it's tough to hold out hope for the good that sprouts from the ground of spring. But spring always comes - and that's a hard-won lesson for those who learn to winter well. I have my childhood winters to thank for my stubborn belief in Something Better which was bred from more than ​half a lifetime of living through darkness without losing belief in the light. The home I now have is warmer than most Midwesterners would probably prefer - sunny most of the time, but with its own seasonal rhythm that's teaching me new lessons in change, particularly that perhaps change doesn't always have to take so long. I am surrounded by Live Oaks. ​​For miles in any direction, their gnarled branches and tiny-but-mighty leaves dominate the landscape. Last year I didn't give them much thought other than to thank them for keeping their leaves during the winter when most deciduous trees decide to drop. This year though, I'm noticing something else. Not only do Live Oaks seem to skip the spectacle of changing colors in the fall and reject the necessity of a naked winter, but they also have a particular way of welcoming in spring. In short, they don't waste any time. As the sun stays longer and the days get warmer, all at once they drop their leaves - suddenly, shockingly, and in a rather straightforward, no-nonsense way. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to believe their wardrobe change is ill-timed. After all, it's nearly April. Winter is over; there's no need to be naked, especially with the Redbuds showing up in their pink hot pants. My Midwestern brain expects the Live Oak's dropping to lead to dormancy, a long period of mourning before ushering in the sense of moving on. For most of my life, that's been the pace of change: it's slow as all hell. Mourning takes time and it's easy for me to get stuck there. I think many of us are feeling this stickiness after 2020 and 2021 - two years of forced, slow wintering that felt like lost leaves and lost time. And similar to the Live Oaks, many of us here in the States were quarantined right around the time when winter began to lift. It's like getting the absolute worst substitute right before recess. Now that it's above zero, please stay separate and inside for the foreseeable future. Thanks. Your new teacher, ​​COVID-19. The last few years have been an​ extended wintering, indeed - one with many losses and much mourning. ​​But the Live Oak doesn't mess around with mourning. It doesn't ascribe to the idea that mourning must take so much time. ​​Because if you look close enough, you'll see, at the very same moment it's mourning the dropping of its leaves, it's moving on and creating new baby buds at the very same time. This seems to be flow at its very best. Mourn and move on. Mourn and move on. Mourn and move on. ​​​​​​As a sensitive one who's struggled all her life with being sick, the idea that change could happen quickly and fluidly seems radical. Yet, the more I deepen my yoga practice and understanding of Anne's Anatomy, ​​I realize we're supposed to flow. We're not designed to reach for the moving on, but we're also not meant to stay stuck in the mourning. At the very same time we leave old leaves behind, we can build brand new buds. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​My takeaway: We don't need to return to the reckless speed of 2019, but we also don't need to remain stuck in the slow slog of the past few years. ​​There's a flow we're all designed to find. ​​ We're three months in and this is what I feel 2022 is designed to do: wake us up from our wintering and inspire us all to find our flow. We've certainly shared our fair share of loss and mourning lately. Perhaps it is finally time to move on. May you be a Live Oak.​​

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