The Giving Tree Revisited

Let’s revisit the old Shel Silverstein favorite to showcase my installment on the importance of myths and what deep truths they contain.

But first, and just in case you were wondering…

If you get a COVID booster shot every 4 days repeatedly it’ll take you 2.5 years to reach 220 shots. That’s exactly how long it took a 62-year-old man in Germany to get to 217 boosters before he was detained for… getting too many boosters.

What did the authorities do when they captured this man who had apparently been taking advantage of the free vaccine program and perhaps getting overstimulated by the anti-hesitancy campaigns? They did what any sensible government would do: check his antibody titers. Turns out he had antibodies to COVID. Predictable! They got the idea to study his blood and even let him get a couple more shots and study it some more. His levels were no more or less than someone who got the normal amount of shots. Anyway, he’s alive and not sick so we can draw some conclusions from all of it, like: if you’re him you can get many more shots than anyone would recommend and not immediately get sick. It may not be a super relevant or a particularly high-level science story, but it’s a human interest story, for sure, and maybe more of a mental health story. Authorities are careful to say they don’t recommend his approach.

I also sense his approach is too narrow. He is too focused on only one aspect of health maintenance and losing sight of the big picture.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

He’s not alone. The bottom line is we all need help. It is tough to get a broad picture of health, even if your efforts aren’t so bizarre to make international news.

Solutions

My solution has been to look for truths about our bodies and our existence, no matter how hidden and how complex. On this quest, I have endured a rigorous and desiccating medical education at one of America’s top medical schools. My residency out West only increased the intensity of my study of the human body and modern medical approaches. After residency, I knew I needed to balance my education by studying traditional and philosophical models of health and searching for a spiritual approach to healing that could tie it all together. And now? Now I find myself happily revisiting one of my favorite childhood books. Whatever it takes!

Do you know Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree? Here is a link to a 5-minute video of the story. The older the boy gets, the more diminished the tree becomes, until he is very old and the tree is a stump, acting as a place for the man to sit as her final offering to him. The tree gave the boy her leaves, her apples, her branches, and finally her trunk because she loves him so dearly.

It’s somewhat of a sad story, but it resonates. There are some good lessons there. The secret to The Giving Tree is the boy and the tree are one. Like in your dreams, in a good archetypal myth, all the characters are you. It’s two aspects of the same person. It’s two aspects of you.

Our vitality (the tree) is sacrificed for our maturing consciousness (the boy). You cannot have both entities robustly present at the same time. One recedes as the other predominates and vice versa. They are inversely related. That’s why the saying, “youth is wasted on the young” is such a good one. It can’t be any other way. Vitality is the same as immature youth. And as we age, and by nature of our aging, bit by bit we chop down our own tree; and, in the process conscious activity becomes more complex.

Longevity

There is a popular approach in health these days where people take steps to slow or turn back aging. To an extent, I agree with these efforts to maintain vitality, but it’s a mistake to view vitality in an isolated fashion. The longevity conversation on earth right now is missing something. It’s confusing to discuss the preservation of vitality without considering the whole picture of one’s existence, without considering consciousness.

A disastrous scenario is that vitality and longevity efforts taken too far will diminish conscious activity and thinking power. Vitality is not a stand-alone goal.

Vitality is a means to the end of finding meaning in life and emphasizing the quality of our conscious experiences.  This is where the bulk of our attention should be, not on reversing aging. “Living well with high aims” would be a fitting mantra.

Our tree will become a stump, and the only way to honor its sacrifice is to focus on our purpose, our care for others, and all that we learn. The only way to put the sweetness in the bittersweet story of The Giving Tree is to make a special house with those branches and a beautiful boat with that trunk.

Realize the quality of your experiences is your true treasure and for what you trade the days of your life.