I’ve decided to take a lesson from the trees and learn how to play the piano.
Before you start wondering when the last time was that you saw a tree play a piano, I’ll explain what I mean.
All my life I always wished I were more musical. I love music, but I’m not much of a singer. I also never learned to play a musical instrument. So when my son started learning to play piano I wished I could do the same, yet I held myself back.
For almost two full years.
Fear had gotten the better of me.
Indeed, when I look back on much of my life I see the same recurring theme. Me, wishing to branch out and try something new, but being held back by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure.
At the core of my work as an Intuitive Eating Counselor is helping my clients to internalize the importance of self-care. I often refer to this as “radical self-care.” Sure, we all know how important self-care is. We know that we can’t give to others if our tank is empty. But we often try to get away with little “pit stops,” putting a small amount of gas in our cars here and there, changing the oil when the situation is desperate, and pretending that all is okay so long as our car isn’t literally losing nuts and bolts as it skitters along. Yet we wish our families could cruise along in peace and comfort without having to wait ten minutes for the magical warming-up period to end.
So what holds us back from turning our jalopy into a cruiser?
If we stop to take care of ourselves, we fear that maybe our homes will fall apart. We fear that it may cause other people to view us as selfish. We fear that we’ll collide with the awareness that we simply just don’t have enough hours in the day to take care of our families and ourselves!
These are legitimate fears. But the alternative is even scarier. Just ask the child whose zombie-eyed mother has no koach left in her system to read him a story or sit on the floor with him without falling asleep. Or take note of how the zombie-eyed mother mindlessly shovels in the nearest form of calorie-rich food just to keep from going to pieces.
So, what we have is a conundrum where we find ourselves needing to find the time to take care of ourselves, but scared to let go of the systems that we already have in place in order to do so.
And this is where those majestic, beautiful trees come in.
Tu B’Shevat is the New Year for trees. But Shevat is the coldest, darkest month of the year. So how is it the beginning of the growing season?
Chazal answer the question by explaining that the majority of that year’s rain has already fallen. Rashi adds that the sap is beginning to rise inside the tree, marking the beginning of the blossoming period.
To the outside observer, trees go through four phases: spring — blossom; summer — harvest; fall — shed; winter — hibernate. But to the informed observer, winter marks a very crucial stage. The stage of gathering and circulating the sweet sap in order to nourish a new generation of fruits. In other words, trees know how to do “radical self-care.”
In the fall, a tree has to make a tough transition. It has spent an entire year growing leaves and developing fruit. With winter approaching, the tree has a “choice.” It can work to keep last year’s leaves and fruit, buying some more time for them to propagate. Doing that, however, risks the health of the tree and, even if the tree survives, it will be short on resources for developing the next batch of fruit in the spring.
Alternatively, the tree can drop the old leaves. It can drop the old fruit. The winter is still the winter and survival is not guaranteed, but this will give next year’s batch the best possible chance to flourish.
It’s a delicate balance. The tree needs to focus on next year’s fruit, but to do so it must be willing to let go of the old crop that is no longer thriving. So the tree relinquishes its hold on it and starts preserving its resources. It sheds the old leaves and cultivates that rich sap, pulling it up through its trunk and into its branches. In the spring, the rejuvenated tree has all it needs to share the fruits of its labor with the world.
When working with my clients to help them have menuchas hanefesh with their eating we often explore old habits that they turn to despite the knowledge that they are holding them back. The biggest culprit we face is the fear of letting go of dieting. The years have proven to these women that diets have never worked for them. Still, they face so much fear when it comes to letting go of the reins and learning to eat intuitively.
What if I gain weight? What if I can’t stop myself from eating once I start? What if I’m not capable of being an intuitive eater? What if all my friends and family members judge me for rejecting diets?
And so many of them feel a strong pull toward dieting and meal plans. Not because they think they’ll work, but because they allow them to keep trudging forward through life without having to stop and face their fears.
“Radical self-care” means dropping the old systems that fail you and instead thinking about what will allow you to blossom, investing in yourself, and finally giving to the world all the potential that Hashem has invested in you.
I’ve come to realize that fear of failure has never led me to success, and fear of rejection has never gotten anyone to accept me. I’m learning to drop my fears and start investing in myself. I can already picture the fruits it will bear when I am sitting with my son at the keyboard and we play a duet together.
Now that’s something worth investing in.
(This article originally appeared in The Voice of Lakewood.)