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Meeting Anxiety – A Gentle Reminder from Trees

If it could speak, anxiety’s mission statement would be something like “What’s here is intolerable and unacceptable. Off with it!” Well, I was reminded of another way this morning while standing amidst a miniature forest of trees in Golden Gate Park, sipping my morning coffee.

I didn’t think to stop, I just stopped. Or rather it seemed, the trees stopped me, their stillness and presence an invitation to join them in remembering first-hand these essential qualities. The next thing I knew fifteen minutes had passed while standing still among them, experiencing my natural environment not as a detached onlooker, but as nature itself. Thus is the power of stillness and presence, and of trees!

This eventually got me to thinking, as if the trees were reminding me once again of age-old wisdom which so happens to be the most potent remedy for anxiety. Thus, I share it here. It goes something like this; Be still, refuse nothing, neither hide nor seek in the midst of what’s here, and see what happens. Of course, what’s here changes like the wind or the weather, when we don’t get caught up in the mind with our judgments, shoulds, and shouldn’ts. The obvious metaphor here is to notice how the trees relate to what comes and goes in the weather; rain, wind, sunshine, cold, warmth, it’s all ok, it’s all welcome. And so it is with states of mind, feelings, and so on. These are really just clouds in the sky of our awareness, albeit ones we identify with to the extent that we believe them. Like the weather, they overshadow the radiant and non-discriminating light of our awareness. When we are not fully identified with thoughts such as ‘I’ll never be good enough’, and the accompanying feelings, our behavior is not limited by them, WE are not obstructed from our natural flow and capacity to act, relate, and adapt in a way that serves and nourishes ourselves and those around us.

Finally, I’d like to relay one last aspect of the experience I had while standing still among the trees. After some time I became aware of the sound of cars going by. Although I was surrounded by trees and their silent presence, I was still only about 100 yards from Fulton St. The initial impulse of my mind was, ‘Oh, this car noise is unwelcome here, it’s really detracting from my experience of the peace and silence. How to make it stop?!’ About a second later, the already established silence and presence I was experiencing reminded me that, in fact, this wasn’t true! The car sounds were not a problem. As soon as this sunk in, the sound of the cars became much less interesting and very quickly receded into the background of my experience, even disappearing entirely from my awareness. The lesson here is that when we don’t make an enemy out of our experience, but rather welcome it, it sticks around for not so long. The stickiness or the glue is actually the resistance itself. Thank you trees.

Tom Rhodes

Tom Rhodes

Tom Rhodes is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. He specializes in working with people who suffer from anxiety or whose very identity is being called into question by the current circumstances of their life.

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