The tip of the iceberg, the roots of the tree….


Listening to some incredible tales the other day – so incredible they could have been material for a seventh novel in Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series about the Church of England in the 20th century – I was reminded of that saying, ‘The tip of the iceberg’. ‘The earliest, most obvious, or most superficial manifestation of some phenomenon’ (Webster’s Dictionary).

We only see a little piece of what others present to us, their persona, and can but surmise about the greater depths beneath the presenting surface.  The stories we tell ourselves and the world are at the tip of our iceberg, their deeper roots and truths concealed.

In our ignorance, like a ship at sea, we may crash into the hidden berg beneath the surface, and both or one of the two colliding beings may be hurt and damaged. 

How easy it is for us to become wrapped up in our own stories and those we hear from others….to the point where it becomes difficult to know what to believe and what to question.  Sitting there listening to these stories really drove that point home to me, always easier to see with someone else.

Someone else’s fantasy becomes our drama or feeds our drama, and acquires a reality of its own, like a floating iceberg cut off from the greater mass to which it belongs.  We need to find our way back to land.

Generally when we think of ‘the tip of the iceberg’, there is a feeling that everything beneath the surface, what is invisible, has huge power and importance, and is often very difficult – maybe mostly because it is unseen.  There is a sense of foreboding.  When a ship meets the iceberg beneath the surface, the ship’s fate is usually not a happy one. Think of the Titanic.  Very few sailors contemplate meeting a hidden iceberg with joy and excitement – unless they have a death wish.  We tiptoe around other people’s hidden depths, feeling our way and expecting to encounter problems there rather than joy.  At best we are neutral.

And then, while mulling over these reflections, I saw this picture.


The roots of the tree turn the iceberg on its head.  The tree stripped of leaves, in an autumnal or wintry setting, has spring sprouting beneath its surface in full glory and just starting to wrap around its bare, exposed trunk, like a second skin. Instead of shedding its skin, this tree is growing one, even out to its furthest extremities, its fingertips.  All of this life is there waiting to burst forth when the time is right.  Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  The surface doesn’t tell the whole story, but in this version what’s hidden is wonderful not full of foreboding. 

So often we feel a frustration with life.  Despite our best efforts nothing is happening.  There is a sense of time standing still, incubating.  We can trust in this process or not.

So when we see the wintry tree, do we imagine a a dark mass of knotted roots beneath the surface, something to hack away at; or do we think of this dynamic living force at work, invisible and glorious, waiting to arrive?  I guess it’s a little like the ‘glass half empty’/’glass half full’ choice.

What about just – a glass?

You can see the tendencies, inclinations and habits of a personality grown up over a lifetime as dark, hidden and formidable.  Or you can see something more positive, if sometimes tangled and confused, at the heart of a person’s tendencies, inclinations and habits. You can get caught up in, and be entranced by, the stories the personality tells itself and the world, the way it reacts, its pleasures and irritations.

So I can choose how I see….

The tip of the iceberg, the roots of the tree…

Sometimes I want to believe so strongly in those hidden flowers that I am shocked by the discovery of some ice there too. I have expectations. I can get traumatised by the iceberg beneath the surface which I sense, maybe graze against or even collide with from time to time. I can be waylaid luxuriating in the flowers in the underground garden.

Somehow I need to welcome both the frost and the flowers without hoping for one and hoping against the other – stepping away from expectations, towards something.

snow flowers

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