Recently, a woman shared with me a story from when she first arrived from Vietnam, some 40 years ago.

An avid gardener, she decided to plant what she’d hoped was the first of many fruit trees in her yard. Excited, she brought a tree home from the garden center, digging a hole and then burying it in the soil.

Every day she tended to her little tree, but after a few days, she noticed the tree was looking a bit sad. Its leaves began drooping, and their vibrant green color was fading away.

A few more days passed, and the leaves began shriveling. Perplexed, she went to examine the tree, tugging on its trunk to see if it had fully rooted.

To her surprise, the whole tree lifted straight off the ground, from the bottom of the trunk to the top. The tree had been completely cut off from its roots!

She went to work that day crying, convinced that one of her neighbors had taken an instant dislike to her, and had mutilated her tree as a result. Seeing her tears, a coworker approached, asking what was the matter.

Through tears she explained what happened, exclaiming that she might need to move to France, so distraught was she over the cruelty of her American neighbors.

Her coworker stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing until she was in tears herself. When she finally collected herself, she explained that the true culprit was – not diabolical neighbors of the human variety but (as you may have already guessed), GOPHERS.

(Apparently, there is no such animal in Vietnam, so you can understand how confusing this might have been.)

She and I had a good laugh over this, and she went on to tell me about the beautiful garden she’s planted since, and all of the other critters she’s met as a result.

It was a funny story and a lovely conversation, but I think what I love most about this is how wonderfully it illustrates our capacity to create meaning from our circumstances, and how that meaning shapes our experience (often causing us to suffer).

When we perceive the events in our lives as happening “TO us”, the world can quickly become a hostile place.

Like the tree, we can find ourselves cut off at the roots – disconnected from our sense of community and even from our own selves. This break in connection can cause us to treat others as the enemy, increasing our sense of separateness and deepening patterns of blaming, shame, and victimhood.

If, however, we perceive the events in our lives as happening FOR us – always guiding us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our fellow humans, and the nature of the Divine – we can lean into them more fully, rooting ourselves deeper into the understanding that we are all in this together, and the truth that we – and we alone – have the power to shape our own experience