Tree Healing

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. 


Every artwork has a story. And this one is about rebirth.

I moved from Maryland to Colorado in August of 2017. My husband, son and I were in a car with a 17 year old cat, two bonsai trees (big ones), two tortoises ( big ones!), and a tank of hermit crabs (seriously?) for three days.


We left behind an orchard we had planted which had borne fruit for the first time that year. We left behind an intricate and beautiful tree house/ jungle gym that my husband hand crafted out of whole tree trunks cut down from our yard. We left behind my studio, which my husband built for me, with industrial quality ventilation and work bench and windows, and beauty and joy.

And we arrived in Colorado and moved in with my sister, and brother in law, while we waited for our house in Maryland to sell.

This was our rebirth.

I thought when we told my sister that our house had sold, in October of 2017, she would be relieved, and ready for us to move out of her home. But she and my brother in law were sad. It was poetic. We all loved living together. We loved it so much, we spent months shopping for a new house we could all live in together.

Now we share every day, and are so blessed. My son is thrilled to have his aunt and uncle in the house. They are thrilled to have their nephew to play with daily. My husband loves to talk endlessly to my brother in law, who enjoys the same. I thought women could talk until there was no oxygen left; these guys are like senators! Its wonderful to hear them arguing subtle points of science endlessly.

We could not have imagined this miracle, yet we are blessed with it now everyday. And the image of sitting in a waterlily, just accepting the unfolding around me, tells the story.

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