I love pruning trees
I love it so much, it’s a kind of obsession. This practical art form has a fascinating parallel to living an abundant and creative life.
My interest in pruning developed from a desire to have an orchard of fruit and nut trees. While my orchard is not yet a reality, I’ve been learning about how to get amazing, tasty, and gigantic fruit just by cutting off specific branches.
Why would you chop off perfectly good limbs?
I know this doesn’t make rational sense. Isn’t more better? Why not leave them all on so that the tree can grow bigger?
Funny you should ask. (Okay you didn’t ask, but I’ll bet you’re wondering!)
Just like people, a tree only has so much energy blossom, bear fruit, make new branches, heal cuts, fight disease, and manage stress. The more places it needs to spread those finite resources, the smaller and less abundant its fruit. In fact, some trees get so leggy, their fruit is nothing more than seeds.
If you want big, juicy, tasty fruit, you must limit the number places those resources need to go. By pruning, you select the strongest branches and cut away the weaker ones. For example, if a tree had ten branches and you pruned four, the remaining six would get all the nutrients and sunlight. This produces bigger, tastier fruit.
The same is true in life.
Pruning is life
Your life is a tree. Each branch is an interest, activity, and relationship. Each one requires energy to bear fruit. Some branches may be dying or diseased, some are at cross purposes, others are broken beyond repair. Airflow and spaciousness between them is essential.
When you have an over-full life or feel overwhelmed a lot of the time, it’s usually a sign that you have too many branches. Your energy is too diffuse to sustain everything. If you prune back things that are non-essential, you provide more vigor to the activity-branches that remain. Overwhelm decreases and happiness grows.
The ABS’s of pruning away what isn’t essential
Recently, I prepared to help a friend prune her weeping cherry trees. I came up with this little mnemonic as a guide.
D: Dead and diseased – Prune anything that is unhealthy or already dead.
C: Crossing – Prune any branches that cross or touch to prevent disease.
B: Broken – Prune ragged, broken branches to the tree can heal.
A: Airflow – Prune out branches to make space for air and light, and prevent mold growth.
“With a good, sharp pair of loppers, remove branches in this order,” I said.
“Why not ABCD?” my friend asked.
“You certainly could do that, but if you go D-C-B-A, you end up with only the best and healthiest branches by the end. This is the best way to get good fruit.”
If you’re ready to reduce overwhelm and simplify your life, here are the places to look. In fact, you may want to grab a journal to do some writing about the ideas that come up from the questions that follow.
D: Dead and diseased
Reflect on the areas that no longer feel vital or life-giving.
- What objects in your life are dead or diseased?
- What activities are you engaged in that no longer feel enlivening?
- What people feel toxic or excessively draining?
Interestingly, weak branches die on their own whether you prune them or not. When you prune something that’s dying or diseased, the branches that remain become much stronger and more fruitful.
Think about the conflicts of interest in your life.
- What possessions do you have that are in opposition to your values?
- What do you consume (food, media, objects, etc.) that keeps you from devoting yourself to the things that you truly love?
- What activities do you engage in that are at cross purposes to your goals and dreams?
- Which people in your life get under your skin, disregard what’s important to you, or impose upon you?
Crossing branches rub against each other in the wind, causing scratches on the plant’s skin and giving pests and disease a way to enter. Crossing creates vulnerability and taxes the plants ability to keep itself healthy. Sound familiar?
Reflect on what’s not working for you.
- Make a list of your possessions that cannot be repaired—or to do so would require too much energy, effort, time, or expense.
- What activities no longer support your growth?
- What relationships are beyond repair and need to be exited?
Once a limb is broken, a tree becomes really vulnerable to disease and pests. It will eventually die on its own, but it’s better practice to make a clean cut so the plant can heal. The same is also true for hearts.
Think about the amount of spaciousness you crave in your life.
- How much space do you physically need around you? How does that compare with the space you currently have?
- How much time do you need for self care daily? How much time do you need between activities to clean up and refocus?
- How much alone time do you need? And how much connection with others?
Without enough airflow, a tree becomes stressed. Fruit that is too close together can bruise or rot. Branches that don’t get enough light die on their own. Space is healthy.
What fruit do you want to bear?
Because cutting back can be challenging, it helps to think about what you want to flourish.
- What do you want your home to be like? What qualities do you want it to have?
- How do you want your life to be in terms of heart, spirit, body, mind?
- What kinds of relationships do you want?
- How do you want to contribute to your circle, your community, and your world?
Your responses to these questions are like choosing the variety of fruit you want to grow. Focus on this and pruning what is not this can become a little easier.
The reality of pruning
Despite loving this art form, every time I lift the shears to snip, I feel a little twinge. When it’s a big branch, the feeling even more intense. Am I sure? Can I really let this go? Is this the right branch? When I’m letting go of something in my life, I feel that same twinge. Maybe you do too.
Pruning takes trust. There’s no guarantee that the remaining branches will bear fruit, but it’s likely. You’re not assured of more enjoyment if you let go of possessions or an unhealthy relationship, but it’s likely. The hard part is not knowing. Every time I cut, I get a little more confident in deciding.
If you’re not sure, it’s okay to let something grow for another season to see what it does. A fading relationship might spring into blossom. Those jeans might start fitting you better thanks to a new exercise plan. You never know.
A final thought
I’ve been noodling this article idea for months as we’ve moved from winter into spring. I’d love to know what thoughts it brings up for you!