the parable of the oak and the willow

There is an old story, which I might be misremembering. An oak tree and a willow tree, who had grown up next to each other, were having a conversation. The oak was glorying in the strength of its trunk and its branches, claiming that it could withstand the strongest of storms. The willow extolled the virtues of flexibility, of rolling with the strength of the storm rather than fighting it directly.

When the storm came, as storms always do, the oak found itself broken, where as the willow, aside from losing some leaves and smaller of its branches, remained standing.

I have a lot of sympathy for this parable. I’m not sure of the strength of its horticultural veracity, but I’ve always found it to make a certain kind of sense. It’s come to mind recently, I suppose, because of the storms, physical and cultural, that are currently swirling around. (I think perhaps I watch too much news.)

Beyond that, my aikido practice is much more willow-like than oak-like. Falling like a tree is not a good way to fall, for instance. And as I get older, the idea of using strength rather than technique and movement and flexibility becomes less attractive over time.

But it applies elsewhere as well. It can be applied for instance to teaching. The oak stands and says, this is my way and this is the way, and requires students to do as they do. The willow is more flexible, more adaptable to the individual student. Or so goes one interpretation.

I contemplate this parable particularly at times when I feel more oak-like than willow-like. Because there is an easiness to being oak-like; I will stand here and I will be, and I will let the winds whistle through my branches and leaves.

I find there to be a theoretical, hypothetical attraction to the way of the willow, but it does require more effort to move and be flexible than it does to stand in glorious ignorance of the world. And some days, it’s just hard to move, and it’s hard to move in response to the world. But still, the parable I think holds a clue to something more. The quest continues.

~ by Jim Anderson on 23 April 2023.

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