Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Be the Tree

The psychologist is tall, with cropped blonde hair. She’s in great nick for 59. I know she’s 59, because she told us her age, self deprecatingly, glancing coquettishly at the podium. She’s been blinking at us earnestly for an hour and a half. Blue eyes, fringed with mascara, little clumps at the ends of her eyelashes. She is trying to establish that we all have things in common, despite being so very different.
‘Who here has seen a Hollywood movie?’ she asks. ‘Who here has ever made a mistake? Who here likes to hang out with friends and have a good time? Show of hands, please, people.’
Some hands are raised, apologetically.
‘Well, look at that. Look how much we have in common, despite our various backgrounds.’
She wants to demonstrate a Principle. I can hear the capital P. I volunteer to be her assistant.
I walk to the front of the conference room. She smiles at me encouragingly, puts her hand on my arm. Encourages me to turn around, to face her.
‘Close your eyes,’ she says. ‘Be flexible. Loosen your body.’
I do an exaggerated body roll, wave my arms about wildly. The crowd titters.
A note of tension creeps into her voice. She laughs, dutifully. ‘Okay, get ready,’ she says. ‘I’m going to push you.’
She gives me an almighty shove. I stagger.
‘What happened, everyone?’ This is directed at the room.
‘She nearly fell,’ someone says.
‘That’s right, she nearly fell.’ She pauses, to let the import of this hit home. I’m pretty sure she’s blinking earnestly. Her voice turns back to me.
‘Now, be rigid,’ she says. ‘Lock your knees, tighten everything you have.’
‘Okay.’ I do a passable impression of somebody with rigor mortis.
She gives me another almighty shove. I stagger, again.
This is beginning to get old.
‘What happened, everyone?
‘She nearly fell,’ the crowd choruses obediently.
‘That’s right. She nearly fell.’
‘Now.’ Her voice is conspiratorial, hushed. A pregnant pause. ‘I want you to pretend to be a tree.’
‘A tree, did you say?’
‘That’s right. A tree.’
I sigh inwardly. ‘Well, okay. Sure.’
‘Where are you from?’ she asks me.
‘I’ve heard they have beautiful trees there.’
No shit. I don’t say that bit out loud.
‘Is there a beautiful tree near your home?’
‘There is, yeah.’ I decide to be a sport. ‘A few grand big ones, actually. A whole bunch of oak trees, and I think there might be a few ash trees as well…’
She cuts me off. I suspect she doesn’t really care about the trees near my home. ‘Be that tree,’ she says. She obviously wasn't listening when I said there were loads of them. 
Her arm is on my arm. Her voice is syrupy now, melodious. 
‘Plant your roots,’ she says. ‘What are your roots?’
I start to answer, but she beats me to it.
‘They’re your values. Your values are your roots. Just imagine them, hold them close to your heart.’
I’m beginning to be glad my eyes are closed.
‘And what are your arms?’
‘I don’t know, my branches?’
‘Exactly right. They’re your branches.’
I must be some kind of genius.
‘Now watch everyone. Jenny is being a tree. I’m going to push her again. Let’s watch what happens.’
The crowd watches, expectant.
She nudges me. It’s more of a friendly pat than anything. My shoulder moves, my feet don’t.
I open one eye, close it again; trees don’t have eyes.
‘See what happened, everyone? She didn’t fall.’ This last is delivered with hushed reverence. ‘She didn’t fall.’
The crowd mutters, obediently.
‘What about that.’
Everyone makes approving noises.
‘And I pushed her just as hard as before.’
I choose not counter this wildly inaccurate assertion, remaining silent, because I am a tree.
‘That’s because she has roots. She has roots, planted in the earth. And we all need to be more like trees.’
She pauses, to let this sink in.
‘We all have roots. If we are too flexible, or if we are too rigid, what do we do?’
‘We fall,’ choruses the crowd. Somebody coughs.
‘We fall. That’s right, we fall. You can sit down, Jenny.’
I sit down, filled with a sense of my own treehood.
She looks relieved.
‘Now I want everyone to grab a partner, and do what Jenny and I just demonstrated. Feel your roots. Feel them. Hold them close to your hearts.’ She has made a fist, and is pounding her breastbone. More earnest blinking ensues.
Sixty adults spend five minutes pretending to be trees and pushing each other on the shoulder. I spend the time goodnaturedly shoving a tiny Ukrainian girl around the place.

She takes it in good spirit.