The Useless Tree

An old Taoist parable, I recently discovered, goes like this:

A carpenter told his young apprentice:  “Do you know why this tree is so big and so old?”

“No,” said the apprentice.  “Why?”

“Because,” replied the carpenter, “it is useless.  If it were useful it would have been cut down, sawed up, used for beds and tables and chairs.  Since it is useless, it’s been allowed to grow.  It’s so great that we can rest in its shadow.”

In my previous post I wrote about the importance–or rather, the necessity–of making room for white spaces in our lives.  We need times of rest and relaxation, of simply doing nothing (and doing it well).  In fact, these times of space can increase our creativity.  Just as music happens between the notes, and runners improve between the runs, our creativity flourishes between the busy events of our lives.

But it seems to me that this parable tells us still more.  Paradoxically, the tree grew and became great because it was useless.  Its value existed in its being, not its doing.  The tree did not have to be busy, productive, fruitful, or prolific.  The tree was great by simply being itself.

So it is with us.  Our value and worth are not determined by what we accomplish or how busy we are or how important we feel.  Like the old tree, we are inherently worthy.  Our worth comes not in doing but in being–being the persons we are.

This is a difficult concept to grasp for some of us.  We prefer to be productive and busy and useful.  We then we have a reason to feel valued and valuable.  We’ve earned it, our thinking goes.  Maybe it takes years of living before we really understand that our worth is inherent.  Perhaps then the parable of the old tree will hold meaning:

We are worthy.

Nothing else is required.

The Live Oak Tree in Charleston, SC.
Photo: JStanton.

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