Listening to Trees :: surrender is the new strategy

Listening to Trees

One of my favorite things to do is lay on my back and look up at the trees.

Sometimes I go a long time without doing it.

Sometimes years.

Yesterday I took the morning off with my kids and a dear friend and we went to the Smith and Bybee Wetlands, a 2,000 acre protected space for wildlife withing the city of Portland. The truth is it’s not really all that impressive. Flanked on every edge with industrial complexes, old landfills and highways, it seemed at first to be anything but a retreat from urban life.

As we were walking, heading deeper into the reserve, I noticed a familiar sensation. Within a few hundred feet the sound of trucks dissipated some and I was able to hear the sounds of nature. I felt a deep settling, relaxation of my body, slowing of my mind and a subtle sense of well-being.

I had the sense that I knew what to do.

It reminded me of last week when I took my kids to the park and after we gorged on delicious snacks, and the kids were playing, that same friend and I lay on our backs in the grass – staring up into trees. I had the same feeling.

This is more than a serendipitous gift. It is a reliable method for living an authentic and inspired life.

Sometimes it works even when I don’t have access to nature…

or if I am so stuck I just can’t bring myself to leave the couch.

If I am able to quiet myself long enough to reach the inner stillness of a plant of stone, something magical happens.

All the chatter. All the advice. All the rules. All the shoulds just drop away. If I can just get to that place of stillness (not like meditation – its no work at all), to plain old nothing-ness,and wait there… the muse arrives. She carries a clear and simple message instead of a thunderous cacophony of multitudinous to-dos.

Her message isn’t always easy to follow, but it is always clear.

If you are having trouble getting clear about what’s next, you may just need some time on your back under the swaying trees.

for years I have used this method when I feel overwhelmed or stressed or too busy.

Here are the steps:

  1. Lay on your back (I have found this to be important)
  2. Do nothing (don’t try to quiet yourself –  laying on your back seems to accomplish this without effort)
  3. Wait for the Muse and her message (get clear about what’s next)
  4. Take a few moments to dig the feeling that you just got a message from you Muse.
  5. Get up slowly and do the thing.

The next thing often flows naturally after you complete the thing. When we get of track we can get all super side-tracked and in-efficient. All we need is a re-set, a reminder that surrender is way better than forcing things.

I believe that when we surrender we come up with ideas and plans that no amount of strategy could ever surpass, or even approach.

[tweet “Surrender is the new strategy . . .”]

When I was 33 I decided to really put this theory to the test.

I decided that I would only take action after laying on my back or the equivalent (that’s advanced technique and you can learn it in the Soft Animal Salon). I made a pact with the Muse, that I would pursue her guidance even if it seemed crazy.

The Muse said, Start a Philosophy Café.

(a what???)

And so I did.

It was an experiment.

And the results were amazing.

Without ever sending out a Press Release (I still don’t really know what that means) within a few months of starting my project, I was featured all over local and national press. My picture was on the front page of this news section and written up by that National magazine. I had a crew of 15 volunteers who, each working 12 hours/week, made the project possible.

Together this crew and I built a darkroom, a literary perfomance space with a gallery and set up a letterpress publishing studio. We even built a Food Cart (a pioneering thing to do in 2003) which was run completely by volunteers. I had serious Movers and Shakers, non-profit Execs, the City Club President asking to interview me. We had an angel donor who dropped off a $10,000 check one day. Really, it was off the hook.

You can read more about the Philosophy Café-Press, and the Crêpe Cart if you want, but the point here is that you don’t have to do it right to be seen. You only have to be authentic.

Now, I do have to tell you that the Philosophy Café and the Creperie didn’t make a million dollars. Not even close. My current business gets a lot less press, but I make way more money than in those days (though I am still not making a million dollars nor do I want to).

The point is that wherever you are in the journey, you have an obligation to honor your Muse, your call, your destiny.

The reflection that comes back will vary in different cases and times of life, but it will be just right for you. It will be your reflection.

You don’t have to do launches. You don’t have to do market research. You don’t have to do monogamy. You don’t have to pretend, or brag. You don’t have to pour tea . . .

. . . unless the Muse tells you to, and then I encourage you to go to hell or high heaven for her.

She’s got your back.

I promise.

By | 2017-01-11T18:17:06+00:00 April 23rd, 2014|A Room of Her Own|3 Comments


  1. […] if we were to slow down and try a different way. The way of the […]

  2. Krista June 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    What a lovely story and image you’ve shared with us, Francesca. Isn’t it weird (or completely not weird) how subtle beauties are so much more moving when we are in despair? You might like my post, titled Nervous Breakthough, as well:

    ~ Krista

  3. Francesca E April 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    This was just the thing I needed to read this morning. I remember one time being in Santa Monica, was being evicted from apt and was having difficult time finding a new apt. It was frustrating and I was looking non-stop for a place. I finally ended up in Rustic Canyon (in Santa Monica mts.) in the middle of a grove of eucaliptus trees, lying on my back in tears just looking up into their “arms” then a flock of monarch butterflies, many hundreds of them, started flying overhead. I was astounded with their beauty and joy and watched them many minutes – an hour- until they retreated and I was left with the undeniable sense that I would be fine. We would find our new home and it would be beautiful and filled with grace.

    We were fine, we landed in Venice, very close to the beach and I was able to start a community garden there a block from the ocean, where I could start my morning with Tai Chi, a short jog and the sense that I was where I needed to be.

    Many thanks for your blog which brought this memory back to me giving me energy for this next challenging chapter of my life.
    In love and grace,
    Francesca E

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