Why I am happier and healthier because I think like a tree

My name’s Sarah and the bad news for me is that I’ve struggled for most of my life.  Struggled with chronic illness, struggled with jobs that don’t suit me, exercise that makes me worse and healthy diets that make me, well… more unhealthy.

I knew I needed  a way of thinking differently, to make sure the decisions I was making in my life were ones that were going to help me recover and live the life I deserve.

So, after many years of knowing that I love being in the outdoors, gardening and walking in woodlands I discovered there is a way of observing and learning from natural principles that can inform how we live. It’s called permaculture, or biomimicry and I would urge you to go out and read more about both of these.

Over many months, I noted the natural principles that I saw around me, learned from them, and applied the in my life.

So, for example I learned that trees catch and store energy (from sunlight), so I worked out all the ways I could harness energy (as side-effect of my illnesses is chronic fatigue).  I looked at food, rest, energy from my relationships, avoiding burnout and many other things.

I learned to observe the patterns in life.  Nature repeats the same patterns over and over, because they are stable and efficient.  For example branching patterns are seen in branches, leaves, the circulatory system of animals, social networks and more.  I observed the patterns of my days, months and years.  Now I know that some times of the month or year there is no point planning to get too much done – so I might as well not get stressed or feel guilty.

I realised that slow and small solutions are the way to go – after all that’s how a giant oak grows from a tiny acorn.  I found I could achieve more by not over-reaching (I’m naturally an ambitious person, so that was a steep learning curve!)

I learned to be resilient by creatively using and responding to change, and seeking the solution within the problem so that when things don’t go to plan I don’t feel depressed or anxious.  As Winnie the Pooh says, “When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles”.

As I applied all of the principles into a design cycle, I started to become well.  I moved from observation, through working out what might help, research, decision-making, designing and planning, feedback and then making sure I had a rest before starting the process again.  And it worked!  Out of bed and out of the wheelchair and hello new life!

But, for me there was still a problem of how to design a livelihood whilst working around my health constraints.  I came up with the Think like a tree programme

Now I share my knowledge of the natural principles and design cycle, in six sessions, in beautiful woodland locations.  The sessions take place at Whistlewood Common, a community woodland project that I helped set up, and at my own smallholding where we planted a forest garden and woodland seven years ago.

If you would like to take the first steps towards thinking like a tree these are great ways to start:

  • Get out in nature every day
  • Observe the patterns in nature and in your own life – sleep, food, exercise, energy
  • Think about your core values. Trees have a strong purpose and people are happier when they have purpose.
  • Improve your surroundings – small and slow solutions every day
  • Nurture your relationships
  • Embrace change and challenge – develop resilience


(a version of this post appears on The Crop Club website)

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