The Forest v The Trees

Stay with me on this one….

Look closely at the picture above. Do you see lots of trees, or do you see a forest?

Is there a difference between the two?

If you were to remove one or even two of the trees, do you really influence the forest?

But consider this: What if you changed the soil? The light, the air, or the nutrients? Would that have a greater influence?

What if a picture of trees were viewed as a metaphor for multiple symptoms, or “disease conditions”, that a person has listed about herself, or himself? Would changing the “soil”, the conditions, have an influence on the whole person (the forest)?

It’s a modern phenomenon to treat people, and our health, like a tree: a single stand-alone tree that is influenced very little by anything else, and influences the forest very little. But it is truer that while we can treat one disease or even many “diseases”, that disease does not define us.  To continue in the metaphor, we are each one made up of the totality of many trees—a forest of them.

Removing one illness or obstacle (just as a compromised tree) to health may help; it may even greatly improve our well-being for a time. But does it change the forest?

We are whole and complete persons. An influence on one aspect of our lives--emotional, physical, spiritual or mental--has influence on the entirety of us. If, instead of concentrating on individual symptoms/diseases, we concentrated on our whole well-being, would that influence our outcome?

I find it fascinating that a forest ecologist is able to determine the variety of trees that are on a hill if a person will only tell him the makeup of the soil. The simple correlation of soil and environment to trees relates to humans directly. Today, we try to remove ourselves from our “soil” and our conditions, but the soil really is everything.

A tree’s bark, roots and leaves get nutrients only from the soil. What good is it to treat the bark, if the problem comes from the soil? Similarly, if we remove symptoms in this moment, then a person is considered fine. Yet when the medication is removed, the original symptoms can return, or others recur. No cure was obtained, just a removal of a symptom.

Are we able to treat the whole person? If one has multiple conditions, why try to treat each condition, if we are a whole person? Treating the whole person is what changes the “soil” and the environmental conditions. Dr. Henry Lindlahr, one of the fathers of Naturopathic medicine, wrote that it is the “soil” that influences us the most. If we change the soil, we begin to change the person.

Simply put: good in, good out. This could mean emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, food, energy, thoughts, relationships.... If the soil were unhealthy, the forest would be unhealthy. If the soil changes, the forest as a result, has to begin to change.

Is all of this over-simplified? Perhaps.  But we are taught, and expect, that if we remove some disease symptoms, everything gets better. So we remove one compromised tree from a vast forest. We have not changed what is ultimately the forest.

Until we start to see again ourselves as complete, connected, whole people and begin to treat the soil, we should not expect to see changes in our health that are long lasting and curative. A person is not a list of conditions like a random set of trees, but rather a whole entity comparable to a vast forest. And a person is replete with design: design and function that enables our bodies to operate in restorative power.