by Cleo Dunsmore Buchanan
Some faiths, I learned, have a tradition, called tree wounding. When a person is suffering from a great injury, like the death of their child, or some other catastrophic life event , they may be offered the idea of healing themselves with a tree wounding. So the individual goes and beats on a tree, hard as they can, with a knife, or hatchet. And the tree bleeds sap.
The tree Suffers.
The person returns as often as they can to see this tree and to witness the process of what the tree experiences in healing.
At first, it is a hacked fresh injury. Then as weeks pass, the wound dries. The wound doesn’t appear to change for a long time. Eventually the tree begins to create a lining around the injuries, where the bark is growing to encapsulate the injury. Each visit reaffirms, “I shouldn’t be done yet. My injury is this fresh. My tree is still alive, it is still there, it is still hurt and still growing. Just like me.”
When I prune my beautiful bonsai tree that has been my friend for thirty years, I am cutting it to pieces. I think reverently, I am pruning it. It will be better. I put it back in its pot with fresh soil and hope my friend will recover. I am loving. Like a friend who is telling you the painful truth. It hurts, but it is meant with loving kindness, to help us to be better.
Beautifully, the tree accepts these injuries. Magically, the tree survives. It does not die. It pauses for a week or two, just maintaining. Then slowly new sprouts appear. And I witness again the joy of its rebirth, and see myself in this mirror. I can lose a huge amount of stuff. It can feel brutal, to shed so many pieces of myself as if they were meaningless. It can seem impossible for me to change so much of who I thought I was.
I was pruning bushes outside, and I uncovered a flowerbed that the bushes had covered with their lanky thick branches.
As I cut these away, I thought I was doing the work. This is what I am cleaning, I am cleaning this flowerbed, and neatening up these bushes.
Then I found all my pruning had uncovered masses of deadwood and tangled growth. I had uncovered far more old material that was asking for clearing.
And as I cut out the wood, I prayed. Thank you god for this opportunity, for this healing. I prayed for myself, for the tree, for my friends, all of us in our transformation.
I recognized the healing that I object to and fight and rebel against. The healing opportunity is there waiting for me, and I reject it. I can’t have that cut out of me, I can’t disentangle this wood I grew thick so long ago! These scars and deadwood, from my most painful experiences, these are the foundation of my whole personhood. Then to have my dearest friend hack into this place and prune until light and air are in this place instead of my certainty of who I am, all my efforts, my life’s meaning – how dare anyone go there, and expect this of me?
And this noble towering shrub taught me with its humble acceptance, yes I can shed this living part of myself. Yes I can shed this old deadwood at my core of myself.
It showed me joy, it felt the air deep in its core and felt the space for new growth after so many years of suffocating and smothering the neighboring plants.
Soon it will be bursting with buds and new growth. In its awkward shape, so empty and lacking, it will be pushing to fill those spaces with gratitude and enthusiasm. The bush welcomes the emptiness and recreates itself in peace and joy.