I have over 10 large, old oak trees in my yard and the mighty oak has things to teach us about letting go. We are having a windy day where I live and a six-foot-long, 3-inch diameter branch from one of my oaks just dropped in my driveway – this is typical of oak trees. Any time after a big storm, I have to walk through my yard and pick up the branches that have fallen. 

The oak tree gets wider and taller as it grows. Over time, the lower branches of the tree, that used to provide primary nutrients, have access to less sunlight because other branches farther up the tree shade the lower branches. The photosynthesis that the tree uses to gain nutrients requires the leaves of the tree to be exposed to sunlight. Over time, the lower branches that were so essential to the earlier growth of the tree have less access to sunlight and provide fewer and fewer nutrients through photosynthesis. 

Oaks know how to let go.

Initially, the oak tree continues to support the lower branches by giving them nutrients. However, over time, the tree starts letting go of these lower branches and letting them die. Then, a big wind comes along, and the branches drop to the ground leaving a self-healing wound on the trunk – that is what happened in my yard this morning. 

This is a natural process; the oak is an interdependent living system and that means it grows and evolves. Part of the nature of evolution is that it lets go of things (branches, habits, structures, processes, etc.) that no longer serve the larger living system. 

What if humans could learn from oak trees?

Human beings are interdependent living systems that grow and evolve. Like the oak tree, there are habits, ways of thinking, structures, and even processes that were essential to us earlier in our lives that no longer serve us. That is the nature of evolution, we grow and change, and part of that process is finding new forms that serve our living system. 

However, unlike the oak tree, humans tend to hold on to old forms that no longer serve us. We don’t always let go by slowly withdrawing support to the old form (thoughts, or habits) so it can die naturally and then be released without hurt or drama. Instead, we tend to hold tight to old/known ways of being and doing. 

What if we learned to let go in a way that was a natural release? What if we brought mindfulness to our own evolution and named the habits and thoughts that were hindering our evolution? Can you picture a world where humans evolved like all other aspects of nature and let go of forms that no longer serve the purpose (function) of the system? One of nature’s design principles is that form follows function. In human systems, forms (processes and structures) should always support the purpose of the organization or the evolution of the individual. 

Reflections on COP26

The climate summit that just ended in Scotland was a perfect stage to see humans practice or not practice letting go. Here we are at a critical time in our evolution to see if we will let go of practices, thinking, habits, and business models that no longer serve us. Given the results of COP 26 and the inability to let go of fossil fuels in the agreement – it serves as an example of how not letting go will create additional problems for the human race in the future. As our world warms, we will be living with the consequences of our inability to let go. Nature is giving us feedback, trying to capture our attention to let go of old practices. This will only accelerate and intensify as we go forward.

For me, I am reflecting on what I am holding onto that no longer serves my evolution and growth. I haven’t gotten to the point of naturally letting go like my oak trees, but I am using my oak trees as a model to aspire to in my own life.