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It’s easier for us to see certain traits in others than in ourselves. Chances are, what we notice in others, are the same characteristics we hold in ourselves. Sometimes, it’s easier to turn to nature to identify our strengths and weaknesses. I recently read an article about trees and discovered the differences between Banyans and Cottonwoods. It made me realize that our strengths and weaknesses have essential life roles, even with all our vulnerabilities and flaws.

Cottonwoods have broad trunks and extensive limbs that provide good shade. They grow fast and can reach a canopy of 75 feet. In the fall, the lush green leaves turn into a robust yellow. Interestingly, they have either male or female parts on separate trees. Only the female trees produce cotton-like seeds that are messy when they shed. The trees have soft bark that can be easily carved and even used as a food source or medicinally. As beautiful as they are, the soft bark and shallow root system make them susceptible to disease and uprooting during storms.

Banyan trees have a different kind of beauty, more majestic. One tree can cover massive amounts of turf and reach heights as tall as Cottonwoods. They require insects or birds to transport their seeds to other trees that become hosts for new growth, which grows downward, looking like wooden candle wax melting into the soil. Even though the seeds are messy and strangle their hosts to propagate, they are an essential food source for birds and many other life forms, along with medicinal values for digestive and intestinal disorders. The Banyan has a history of spiritual symbolism in India and other parts of the world, with a life span of up to 500 years. Despite their survival capabilities, they are also susceptible to brutal invasions by various insects and fungal infections.

We’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Cottonwoods are strikingly beautiful, yet, like Banyans, are messy. While they might be more aesthetically desirable than Banyan and can serve survival needs, the shallow root system doesn’t allow for sturdy permanence. The Cottonwoods can teach us to appreciate beauty but also to work on building a profoundly rooted system in things that last. Otherwise, it’s easy to be blown down by life’s unmerciful winds and unexpected dis-eases.

The Banyan’s need for parasitic survival may seem cruel, and the tree might seem creepy to some people. But nature’s divine plan uses the Banyan as a host for many life forms, which might explain its longevity. We may not like seeing ourselves like Banyan trees, but we also depend on other life forms for survival. And without proper nutrition, we are susceptible to many illnesses as well. We can learn from the Banyan to use all resources to grow and endlessly spread our roots into deeper soil.

Both trees provide shelter, medicine, food, and shade. Both make messes, but nature turns those messes into the miracles of creation. As humans, we do things and experience pain that we don’t always understand. Let us age with grace, bend with the wind, and firmly root ourselves in things that nourish our bodies and essence. Let us be soft and beautiful like the Cottonwood and relentlessly rooted like the Banyan. Then we can turn all our life experiences into being served and serving others, a perennial process of abundant, unconditional love. Only then does it all make sense.

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Dr. Donna Marks has been an author, consultant, public speaker, and psychotherapist for over thirty years. She was licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987 and then certified in Addiction, Gestalt Therapy, Hypnosis, Sex Therapy, and Psychoanalysis. She currently has a concierge psychotherapy practice in Palm Beach, Florida.
She has appeared on numerous podcasts and local television. She is the author of two books, Learn Grow Forgive – A Path to Spiritual Success, and Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Solution (revised), and winner of multiple book awards. Her next book, The Healing Moment: Seven Keys to Turn Messes into Miracles, will be released in 2023.

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