Gentle Support vs. Strangler Figs

Gentle Support vs. Strangler Figs — a metaphor from the Cloud Forest

In This Moment

A few more days, and we’re heading back to Canada!

gentle support
I expect this article might be a little on the short side. I’m writing this in the final few weeks of this trip to Costa Rica, and are planning our hotels, etc., as well as looking at a trip to Spain for September.

Yesterday, Darbella and I made a trip to a close-by section of the cloud forest. I wrote about it on our new travel site, Simple Zen Travellers.

The thing about the Cloud Forest is how things inter-are

Some of the main trees are 150 feet tall. I tried to take a picture, but it was, you know, cloudy, and it’s dark under the big trees.

The bigger the tree, the more stuff is growing on the tree.


This picture shows bromeliads growing in the crook of a much smaller tree.

Such things grow out of the sides, in the crooks, and pretty much all along the trees.

I recently learned that bromeliaids and orchids are epiphites. This is a class of plants that:

… grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. Epiphytes are usually found in the temperate zone (e.g., many mosses, liverworts, lichens and algae) or in the tropics (e.g., many ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads).

So, my point?

This is nature, balanced. It is what balance looks like for us, too. I’m not anthropomorphizing trees… but check this out. The stuff in the trees gets there by: being blown there, brought by animals or birds, and, I suspect, pooped out. They land in some good turf (peat moss, etc.) on the tree, and put down roots.

They do no damage to the tree, and in a sense use the tree to effectively get more light. There was one tall tree that had what looked like hundreds of pounds of peat moss at its top, as well as thousands of plants growing along and in the tree.

What occurred to me is that this is how human relating might work.

The tree is sort of like a teacher who provides learning, or Bodywork, or therapy, or is like an artist or a therapist passing on wisdom and skill. It stands there, and provides safety and shelter as the small plants root themselves. Like a good teacher.

Good teachers have their roots in the ground. They do not derive their nourishment from their students / clients, by rather from “source.” They make available a nourishing environment, and recognize that the roles will never be reversed, any more than an orchid could support a 150 foot tree.

The trees of the cloud forest, “stand not in each other’s shadow” to paraphrase The Prophet. This mirrors the relationship between couples.

That’s why Gibran included the analogy in a section of The Prophet speaking of Marriage:

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

We stand nearby, in the same space, as those who walk a similar path. And yet, we stand apart — unique, self-sustaining, reaching our roots deep, without interfering with the growth or path of others.

As the analogy falls slightly apart

strangler figBy Vinayaraj (Own work) [CC-BY-SA‑3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another nature story: A guide told us about the Strangler Fig. Once again, the seed is transmitted to the big tree. The fig (all members of the genus ficus) put down long roots, that wrap around the tree. Thus, the plant benefits from being high in the tree, getting lots of light.

In many cases, the layer of ficus leaves at top starves the tree of sunlight. Many of the supporting trees die, leaving a hollow fig tree.

The analogy falls apart because the tree, once “infested,” can’t get up and walk away, can’t disentangle itself from the plant that would use it, and then kill it.

But the analogy is apt at the level of: sometimes, the people who end up in our lives are like the strangler fig. When we notice the noose is tightening, despite the effort involved, it’s time to pull up roots and walk away!

Like I said, short, sweet, and filled with trees!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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