Carl Jung said, “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell. When I first read this quote, I believe I understood it. You have to go to hell and survive. Do this, and you will have what it takes to make it to heaven. This was an interpretation I could relate to. So many times I have gone through a version of hell, and yet I am still alive. I am still here, sometimes just barely escaping. But every time, I have survived. This way of thinking made me tougher, more resilient, and yet, I never felt I was getting ahead. I was only surviving, waiting for my next plunge into the depths. Is this really my existence, to be a lone tree in a water-forsaken desert?
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a co-worker about this quote. He said that the pastor at his church discussed it in a recent sermon. According to his pastor, a tree has to dig down to prevent the elements, such as wind, from pushing it over. The stronger the winds, the deeper the tree has to dig. As the tree grows bigger, more strength is needed to hold onto the earth. If this tree is going to reach the heights of heaven, its roots will have to reach the depths of hell. My co-worker’s words made me reconsider my viewpoint on Jung’s quote.
Dig Deep. Last night, I was watching Wild Australia on Animal Planet with my six year-old son. The segment covering Koala bears was introduced with a discussion about the very unique eucalyptus tree. In order for the eucalyptus to survive in such a harsh environment as Australia, its roots have to go really deep. Why? Water. Without water, the tree would not exist, and the only place it can find water is deep within the earth. Water is a basic element, a source of life for all us.
If we want to live, to prosper, we have to tap into the source of life. We have to dig deep to find our meaning for existence, so that we do not become victims of our own harsh climate. Without this foundation, we would find ourselves susceptible to the elements and run the risk of toppling over.
Stand Tall. Compared to a forest, a tree is small. Its chances of survival is small. The seed is fragile. It needs water, soil, and heat to sprout. Competition is fierce for a young sapling. It is contending with other saplings and adult trees for a few precious resources. Can it get enough nutrients to emerge beyond the weeds that would gladly choke it out? As it grows, it will have to carve out its own space among the other trees. In order for it to get the most sunlight, it is going to have to grow the tallest. It is going to have to prevent the competition from crowding it out. It is going to have to move from wanting to survive, to wanting to thrive.
Isn’t it in our nature to desire the same thing? We are all looking for our place in this world, a space we can call our own. The competition is fierce. To get the job we want, we have to be better than the others looking for that same position. We have to make ourselves desirable to have the friends we want and ultimately the spouse we hope for. We have to be our best or we run the risk of being overshadowed by the rest of the forest. The higher you want to go, the deeper you will have to reach within yourself.
Give Back. The biggest tree is the biggest provider for others. It provides food and shelter to a whole host of animals and insects. The more it grows, the greater its ability to give more. At no time does the tree hoard its bounty. The tree does what is in its nature and as a result there are a multitude of benefactors.
As we grow, as we take from the earth and the very source of life, is there any greater calling than to give back? As we mature and age, others begin to look to us for shelter and sustenance. Our families, our employees, and our friends count on us to be there, to be a bastion of security and hope. But a tree doesn’t only provide for its own, it gives freely to any that desires its shelter. In a similar fashion, we should learn from this example and come to a place in our lives where we can give to any in need, not from compulsion but from our own good will. Not only would we be reaching for heaven, we would provide an opportunity for others to find their own way.
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. –Winston Churchill
Often I find myself in my own world left to my own thoughts. I don’t usually find myself in a conversation of this magnitude with a co-worker. This conversation challenged my beliefs and provided an opportunity to create new ones. My former belief –an acceptance of my inevitable return to hell hoping to find a way to escape –was one of overcoming a continuous cycle of failure. My new belief is a call to action, going beyond survival and into a new realm where it is possible to thrive. For this I am grateful.
Really well written! I actually used this today while writing in my journal. Very insightful and inspiring. Connects to many of my core principles. I like the metaphor that the tree provides in this context. I will be sharing these ideas with my family, my students and my basketball team. Thank you for putting it out there!
Brian, thank you for taking the time to read this piece. I am glad you found it beneficial and worth sharing. Have a wonderful day.
Tony, slight different take and imo why nobody achieves much growth. Very tedious and all consuming, as prayer should be. Not pleasant to see.
‘Roots’ that go to hell, are a search of our shadow or dark side. Each root we extend to hell releases us to grow farther to heaven. You cannot ignore those issues in your life without stopping your growth. It makes you a hypocrite as jesus pointed out.
Pale Rider, sorry for the delayed response as I just saw this. I think you make some excellent points. Thank you.
Thanks for writing this! 🙂
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It was my pleasure!