I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in Arizona trees require a lot of pruning. Our trees are not known for growing very tall, but instead seem to prefer to grow out very wide and relatively low to the ground. This method of growth seems to cause our trees to be somewhat unstable as certain branches continue to sprawl out instead of us, causing issues with balance and weight. When one of these branches becomes too heavy, or when a good monsoon storm comes through, it’s pretty common for branches to fall down, or for branches to require cutting for the tree’s overall health.
Whenever I’ve seen a tree gets its branches cut, I often wonder to myself “does the tree feel that? does it feel any pain from the branch being cut? are we cruel for removing this tree’s branch?” And often these musings wander further into “well even if the tree does feel pain, the branch will grow back in time, and isn’t removing one branch worthwhile to make the tree stronger- even if removal is a bit painful?”
The more I thought about removing tree branches, the more I was reminded of painful shadow work that deities make devotees go through. And ultimately, I came to the conclusion that we are all like trees.
Think about it. A lot of pagans that I’ve talked to tell me that the gods often have ‘homework’ for them to do that involves self-improvement. Or you may start to participate in a religion, and a deity shows up and says “you need to fix this and this and this”. Often times, these changes and fixes are painful or difficult to achieve, and we get upset, angry or hurt when we have to go through the process, even if it’s ultimately in our best interest. I’m also sure that there are times when we go through these changes and think that we can’t handle the pain or strife of our current situation. We look at the gods and believe that they are asking too much of us, or perhaps wonder why they think we’re even capable of handling this amount of pressure or stress.
What if the gods look at us and see a tree? And they see some aspect of our lives that are not good for us. That perhaps we put too much energy into a particular branch, and it’s getting heavy and should be pruned before it damages the trunk of the tree. Perhaps when they are asking us to make these large or difficult changes in our lives, they are looking at it the same way that a gardener might- as though they are pruning us, and helping us to grow into more stable beings that will grow better with certain branches removed. While cutting the branch may hurt us, they know that we’ll survive the experience, and that we’ll develop more branches in other places- even if we don’t necessarily see it or believe them.
Now I think I should add the mandatory disclaimer that not all gods are the best gardeners, and it is possible to cut branches in ways that can actually stunt the tree’s growth. So it is important to keep some level of discernment when a deity asks you to make large or uncomfortable changes in your life (if they ask at all, because some won’t). However, viewing shadow work through the lens of trees, nature and growth has allowed me to be more tolerant and patient with difficult shadow work and changes that gods might ask of me. And the more that I watch the trees that got destroyed during this year’s storms, the more I realize that trees are resilient. There are trees around my location that fell over and were cut down to their base- and yet they are starting to grow back. Even in apparent death, there can be life.
Many of us probably don’t feel strong enough. During difficult times and changes, we might feel as thought we are going to collapse under the pressure. That it’s too much and we simply can’t deal. And in more extreme situations, we might even feel as though we will snap as a tree might. However, remember that we reflect the natural world that we live in, and that you are like a tree, too. You are resilient. You are able to grow back, even when cut down to the very base.
One of the most powerful phrases I have ever used in my life is “I am capable.” And if a tree can come back from near death, so can I.
Have the gods ever asked you do to things that you don’t feel you can handle? How have you handled those situations? Does the idea of being pruned help you feel better about such situations?