Healing & the Need for Roots


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I’m finding that healing the effects of depression has a lot to do with understanding the need for roots and what the experience of being uprooted is all about. The metaphor of roots growing into a nourishing soil kept me focused for a long time on just one aspect of this need. I thought it meant primarily having a geographical place to call home, one that I’d grown up in, as had generations of my family before me. That was the importance of feeling part of a place. (The roots in the image above belong to a dead bristlecone pine that lived for thousands years.)

That sort of rootedness was never part of my experience since I’m only the second US-born generation of immigrant families – and my parents didn’t stay in one place. That’s so common for many in the US. There remains, though, an emotional need I’ve felt for most of my life to belong somewhere.

Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve gotten to know the physical presence of a place and began to feel a part of it, whether a city or an open landscape. And then, for various reasons, I’d break that tie and move away, usually to a far-off location with a completely different environment. Still, I’d repeat the exploration until I felt settled once again, beginning to become part of that new world.

The repeated tearing of physical attachment left me with a sense of loss, of imbalance. Of course, I brought so much with me that was just as important – my family and the abiding love within these intimate relationships. We shared whatever changes happened, and the close human bonds were vital to a sense of belonging. I brought too the feeling that the work I was doing was useful to the larger community and society I lived in. How many of us want to “make a difference,” have an “impact,” gain a degree of recognition that what we do has value, is appreciated as a contribution to the social world? That too confirmed me as part of something beyond myself.

I moved to places that had communities – unique in their own ways – but familiar as well, sharing culture, language, neighborhoods, basic values, all reassuring me that in social terms I had not wandered so far after all. It was at least possible, though often hard, to find a new “place.”

And I moved with the continuing sense of who I am – inner turmoil and all. In fact, the turmoil and disruption of major depression cut me off from the person I knew I was, from my family, from ties to everything. That’s a big part of the pain and damage caused by the condition.

I’m always reminded of the Dine ceremony that cures those suffering from the displacement, loss, depression caused by living too long in the strange culture of what is called “Anglo” society. The song and ritual restore the awareness of intimate connection with their own extended families, social world, culture, place and spiritual universe that is home to that people.

In our culture, we turn mostly to private remedies – to medication, to individual therapy, to nutrition, exercise, meditation. All those can have a healing effect on mind and body, of restoring us to the sense of the person we know we are. Many rely as well on support groups, in person or the internet, and I think that gets at the need for rebuilding a social connection. But only recently have therapies emerged that emphasize the importance of restoring rootedness in the larger world – like the ecotherapy discussed in an earlier post. Many writers have described the possible impact of living in a “crazy” society, with all its rapid changes, violence, measurement of personal value in terms of money and success, sheer complexity and bewildering variety and necessity of choice. But how many therapies address all these as forces causing illness rather than the givens of life that we as individuals have to adjust to?

Perhaps we’re moving in the direction of seeing health and wellness as tied to the larger, almost daily disruption and threats to the sense of belonging that is so much a part of life. What could be more healing that to be surrounded by people and symbols of an entire way of life that can tell you: You’re not alone, you belong to everything there is, you’re loved and valued right here for who you are, you’re home.

4 Responses to “Healing & the Need for Roots”

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  1. Hi John,

    I’ve lived in the same city since 1976 when I was just entering into Junior High…don’t do the math!! I lived in different places and my mother remained here until the year after I was married. Most of my depression stems from my abuse and it was somehow freeing to have her move. I feel more rooted now that I am married and have continued to have ties to the city in which I live.

    Now, I am finding that feeling “grounded” comes from inside of me and not from outside of me. I’m still learning, but it is tough. I’m so sorry that you have had to move so much…that is really tough and changes who you are and how you trust.

    Take care,

    • john says:

      Hello, CC -

      That’s an interesting perspective. It took me a long time to understand how deeply the need to feel rooted runs and how much more is involved than attachment to place. I’ve also come to believe – and will go into this in another post – that being uprooted isn’t something that takes place just in ourselves. There are all sorts of ways the larger world breaks us away from basic human needs and ties.

      Thanks for coming by. I always learn from your experience.

      And, by the way, I apologize for my slowness in responding. I’ve had to be away from this blog for a couple of days.


  2. John,
    What an interesting post! Since my husband and I live five blocks away from the house in which I grew up, your story is quite different than mine.

    I’ve always thought that one of the reasons I’ve needed/wanted to remain in my family neighborhood is because of my illness. In order to remain as well as possible, I needed the stability of the community in which I grew up.

    P.S. What a great photograph!

    • john says:

      Thanks, Susan -

      Your experience may well be more typical – that is, living in your hometown. I’ve often wondered if my condition would have been any different if I’d gone back. I was actually eager to leave after high school because I didn’t have a great experience in my family, and the community seemed limiting. I don’t know if anyone has looked into the proportion of people who still live or have returned to the areas they were raised in. That would be interesting to know – especially if that’s changed much over the last several decades. Also why and what they value there.

      Thanks for coming by – Your thoughts are always helpful.