I woke this morning, January 1, 2024, to a small covering of snow. After the rain that our area endured during the Christmas season, I found this to be inspiring. These are the moments of stillness and beauty I talked about in the blog introducing the 2024 theme for the year, Empowering Caregivers through All Seasons. “The brightness of the morning sparked freshness from its dark and dreary place and rekindled an inward rebuilding of what nature does without effort: inspire.”

The focus for January 2024 is inspiration. Inspiration is a force that propels us to reach beyond our “perceived” limitations. Those that provide the selfless act of compassion, such as the act of giving care, is at the heart of an altruistic exertion that surpasses the boundaries of self. Tending to the needs of others, caregiving is a source of profound inspiration to those watching. The act of giving to others not only provides solace to those in need, but also kindles a flame of motivation within the person giving care.

While these small acts of kindness impact the human spirit, one providing the care must be careful of the limits of self. Someone that is extremely compassionate can burn out and someone that continues to give without taking a break can end up with traumatic stress. Both of these can lead to dissatisfaction in life, feeling as if life has no meaning, and questioning one’s purpose. This is called “spiritual stress” and takes quite a bit of healing to feel inspired again.

Nature’s Influence on Caregiving

When this occurs, one can retreat to nature. While in the embrace of nature, inspiration takes on a different manner. The beauty of a sunrise, the tranquility of a forest, or the rhythmic dance of ocean waves possess an unparalleled ability to stir the soul. It becomes a place where one can let go of control; nature doesn’t ask anything of the person embracing its beauty.

Nature, with its cyclical patterns of growth, decay, and renewal, mirrors the human experience. Observing the resilience of a tiny seed pushing through the soil to become a towering tree, or witnessing the rebirth of a barren landscape after a rainstorm, one cannot help but draw parallels to the ebb and flow of life’s challenges and triumphs. Nature becomes a silent healer, imparting valuable lessons of empowerment about adaptation, patience, and the inevitability of change.

When caregiving and nature converge, a powerful interaction occurs, strengthening the soul of the caregiver. Solace and renewal begin to emerge. One can begin to feel, well, almost lifted, healthier and restored.

So, when you feel uninspired from the acts of giving care and it leaves you feeling depleted, take a walk in a serene garden, contemplate the view of a breathtaking vista, or stare into a barren tree and think about its story. This becomes a form of self-care, replenishing the caregiver’s emotional reserves. Nature, in turn, benefits from the nurturing touch of caregiving, as individuals inspired by compassion may choose to extend their care to the environment, fostering a sense of responsibility and stewardship.

In conclusion, the caregiver’s selflessness and the healing drawn from nature fuels the human spirit. Together, nature and caregiving can remind us of the delicate and intricate design of both. Inspiration becomes a living force that breathes life into our actions, a healing and transformative change occurs. As we navigate the complexities of it all, the inspiring moments are the delicate balance between the caregiving and nature, the “reciprocal relationship” that I so often talk about. It forges a path towards a more resilient existence. When the dark and dreary moments of winter bring you down, retreat to nature, even if it is from your kitchen window.

Written by Lisa Story, MSCP, LPC, CT
Hope Grows Founder & Clinical Director

Notes from the Garden: The Tree of Life

December Plant of the Month: Tree of Life

doTERRA Essential Oil of the Month: Clary Sage

If we surrendered to the earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees. – Rainer Maria Rilke

The Tree of Life has been a sacred symbol, revered across cultures and religions, for thousands of years. Almost every major civilization and faith over the ages has had some level of sacred regard for the trees. 

While researching this blog, I found Tree of Life symbolism throughout Egyptian, Celtic, Mayan, Native American, Buddhist, Hindu, African, Greek and Roman mythology, and folklore. In the Bible, the Tree of Life is planted centrally in the Garden of Eden, near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, the Hebrew phrase etz hachayim, meaning “Tree of Life,” has been used to refer directly to the Torah, Jewish sacred scripture. Proverbs 3:18 likens it to wisdom, saying one can derive happiness from holding onto her. 

The Tree of Life symbolizes healing, power, strength, and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Her roots extend downward, spreading their tendrils beneath the ground, and her branches reach up, interwoven, into the heavens. She occupies two worlds, symbolizing the harmonious connection between the divine and earthly realms. She is often encased in a surrounding circle, symbolizing the oneness and unity of all life. 

One of my personal favorite renderings is the Celtic Tree of Life. The Celts considered trees to be sacred repositories of memory, folklore, and the presence of spirit beings. Their Tree of Life symbol has its roots and branches intertwining and knotted together infinitely, with no beginning or end, symbolizing all of us inextricably connected within the Tree of Life’s protective stature. 

Wisdom is in the trees. Acting as both givers and sustainers of life, trees provide us with gifts of nurturance. From cradle to grave, we rely on them for our very breath, shelter, shade, medicine, music, healing, fire, and food. Whenever I have faced periods of struggle, or illness, I find solace among the trees. During a particularly difficult time years ago, it was the trees who taught me how powerful and restorative it can be to connect with nature. Walking among them day after day, their magnificent and healing spirits tended to me, making me feel safe, restoring my spirit, lifting me up to higher ground. It was within their loving embrace that I first felt the invisible connective tissue of the web of life all around me, cradling and connecting me to an intelligence far greater than mine. I was no longer a party of one; they connected me back to the infinite whole. They are my trees of life. I didn’t leave Pittsburgh much during that time, but looking back, I can see now I was on one of the most definitive journeys of my life. 

Journeys of adversity, healing, and wholeness ripen us, and often shake us to our core. They strip away what isn’t real and leave us clinging to what is. They make us human, and the most profound ones will reveal our humbling connection to all that is. I have been a care recipient, and I have a feeling I will be a caregiver before my life is over. What the trees have taught me is that even though these two souls walk hand in hand, experiencing two very different journeys, both are being held in the sacred boughs of a larger whole, to which they will forever belong. 

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

Tree of Life drawing by Emma Stair