Marina Abramović’s Method for Overcoming Trauma: Go to a Park, Hug a Tree Tight, and Tell It Your Complaints for 15 Minutes

One of the most renowned of Chi­nese poets, Du Fu, sur­vived the dev­as­tat­ing An Lushan rebel­lion that near­ly brought down the Tang Dynasty and result­ed in an incred­i­ble loss of life around the coun­try. His poems are full of grief, as trans­la­tor David Hin­ton notes. The open­ing of “Spring Land­scape” con­tains “pos­si­bly the most famous line in Chi­nese poet­ry,” and a painful com­ment on human­i­ty’s place in the nat­ur­al world.

The coun­try in ruins, rivers and moun­tains
con­tin­ue. The city grows lush with spring.

Blos­soms scat­ter tears for us, and all these
sep­a­ra­tions in a bird’s cry star­tle the heart.

The poem presents a trag­ic irony. Nature invites us in, seems to promise com­fort and refuge. “Du Fu tells us that birds seem to cry for us, and blos­soms weep,” writes Madeleine Thien at The New York Review of Books. But “of course, this is a fairy-tale view, and ‘in the knowl­edge of its fal­si­ty, heart­break­ing.’”

Is nature indif­fer­ent to human suf­fer­ing? It would seem so to the bro­ken-heart­ed Con­fu­cian poet. But nature is not devoid of fel­low feel­ing. Trees talk to each oth­er, cre­ate social worlds and fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­cate with the oth­er plants and ani­mals around them. Japan­ese researchers have shown that the oils trees secrete can mea­sur­ably low­er stress lev­els, reduce hos­til­i­ty and depres­sion, and boost immu­ni­ty. Trees may not weep, but they care.

Trees are also, says per­for­mance artist Mari­na Abramović in the short video above, “per­fect­ly silent listeners”—a rare and valu­able qual­i­ty in times of stress. “They have intel­li­gence. They have feel­ings.” And for this rea­son, a tree is the ide­al com­pan­ion when we need an ear.

You can com­plain to them. And I start­ed this a long time ago when I was in the Ama­zon with the native Indi­ans. You know, they will go to the Sequoia tree, which is one of the old­est on the plan­et. And they will make a dance for the tree. These dances for the tree are so incred­i­bly mov­ing an emo­tion­al. So I thought, Wow! Why don’t I cre­ate an exer­cise that real­ly works for me?

Abramović’s tree ther­a­py is one part of her “Abramović Method,” notes Paper, “a set of tech­niques that enables artists to get to high­er states of con­scious­ness.” She rec­om­mends it for any­one who’s reel­ing from the trau­mas of this year. In our own age of dev­as­ta­tion and iso­la­tion, it cer­tain­ly couldn’t hurt, and per­haps we know more than Du Fu did about how nature sup­ports our emo­tion­al lives.

So “please, go to the park near you,” the artist implores. “Pick the tree you like. Hold the tree tight. Real­ly tight. And just pour your heart into it. Com­plain to the tree for a min­i­mum of 15 min­utes. It’s the best heal­ing that you can do.” Includ­ed in the video is a tes­ti­mo­ni­al from an ex-rug­by play­er, who found the Com­plain­ing to Trees method trans­for­ma­tive. “There is some­thing in it,” he says. “It’s almost like you become part of the tree as well.” Trees are not peo­ple. They don’t dis­pense advice. They lis­ten and con­sole in their own mys­te­ri­ous­ly ancient, silent way.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

The Secret Lan­guage of Trees: A Charm­ing Ani­mat­ed Les­son Explains How Trees Share Infor­ma­tion with Each Oth­er

The Social Lives of Trees: Sci­ence Reveals How Trees Mys­te­ri­ous­ly Talk to Each Oth­er, Work Togeth­er & Form Nur­tur­ing Fam­i­lies

How the Japan­ese Prac­tice of “For­est Bathing”—Or Just Hang­ing Out in the Woods—Can Low­er Stress Lev­els and Fight Dis­ease

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Arlynda Boyer says:

    Nah. It could so eas­i­ly respond, “Why are you com­plain­ing to me? You and your kind are mur­der­ing me and my kind.”

  • Night Troll says:

    Isn’t this the chick who eats human flesh with celebri­ties?

  • Mike says:

    Yeah I real­ly don’t care how Ms. “I Drink Baby Blood And Giraffe Semen” Abramovic finds com­fort, she’s a witch, BURN HER!

  • Analie Fernandez says:

    Thank you for this arti­cle. This is so true. After fol­low­ing a Taro­tist’s socalled Spir­it Guide’s mes­sage for Capri­corns for that day when I was lis­ten­ing to it from YouTube last May of this year. I just broke up with some­body at that time and was total­ly dev­as­tat­ed and it was lockdown–so I could­n’t even go out! So, lis­ten­ing to count­less of my zodi­ac sign’s mes­sages on my phone’s YouTube App became my con­sole! And one of those read­ings in which has a mes­sage that we Capri­corns must ground self by walk­ing bare­foot in the ground and talk to plants and trees—so, I start­ed it that day and has been doing it since then. And I am now liv­ing free of pain of from all the Trau­mas I have been through in life!I thanked God and the Nature and most espe­cial­ly my favorite tree.

    I did pick a favorite tree after exer­cis­ing bare­foot­ed on the green grass in the mid­dle of the park and do stand up push ups on 4 trees in dif­fer­ent days. I did push ups to 4 of them but, only to the tree with roots stick­ing out I did my start talk­ing with the tree. And the bond formed between us: I always go to it every time I fin­ished jog­ging, exer­cis­ing and breath­ing exer­cise to do my finale exer­cise in which standup push ups. I always talked all my wor­ries, my aspi­ra­tions in life, my obser­va­tions of life all while I am doing my stand up push ups with my two hands on the tree and my bare feet on its big roots that stick­ing out around it. Then, thank­ing her for it. Yes, she is a she. I named her Vic­to­ria. As in me being vic­to­ri­ous over all my trau­mas I’ve gone through in my life with her help❤😇

    I am so lucky to be liv­ing where I am at because it has a cir­cle park sur­round­ed by big trees and you can jog around and then do exer­cise to its grass in the mid­dle, and you can pick any tree to talk and hug!❤🙏😇🍀

  • Analie says:

    Wow. Thanks for this info! I did my com­ments a minute ago with­out fin­ish­ing read­ing the whole arti­cle because I did use nature aside from coun­sel­ing, to deal with all trau­mas I’ve gone through in life. And now, I’ll do research about Mari­na Abramovic because of your state­ment about her! I don’t remem­ber read­ing or watch­ing her on the news out­lets..

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