Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wisdom from the Jungle

I guess its time to come clean about my title. I’m not actually writing from the jungle in Brazil or some exotic place. Today’s topic comes from a lesson I learned while working in the wilds of my garden in Washington State.

I’ve always had difficulty with the concept of pruning. No matter how many times I’ve been told through the years that ‘pruning invigorates growth,’ I have always preferred my own approach: “live and let live.” Sure, I like natural looking, healthy plants, but I haven’t always trusted that pruning will yield that result. It looks like it might be painful to the plant. I wince whenever I do it. As for cutting out dead branches… well, that has been more of a laziness and time limitation issue. A recent event changed my view of this important process.

A few years ago, at the beginning of spring, I noticed a grouping of 5 miniature shrubs that had not wintered well and had very little green on them. I left them for dead and assumed I would simply replace them. A friend, who sometimes works in my garden, did not know of my plan. She carefully tended each plant and cut out all of the dead wood. There was almost nothing left of these little plants. I thought was a waste of her time. A month later I looked out my window to see that all of these plants were putting on tons of new growth. Not only were they going to make it… they were thriving! I couldn’t believe it! Just cutting out the dead wood had literally brought them back to life. This excited and motivated me.

I began to think about this resurrection, both as a testament to the wisdom of pruning in the garden and also as a metaphor for life. I took out my best pruning shears and went to work on the rest of my garden. It was a time of great reflection and revelation.

Plant after plant, I cut and removed dead wood. I realized that although it was obviously dead to me, the plant was probably continuing to send energy to those dead limbs and branches. The dead areas of the shrub were draining energy and life from the rest of the plant. The whole plant was suffering and stunted in its own health and growth because energy was being diverted to try and revive the dead places and protect the rest of the plant from insects or disease that might attack the useless dead wood. Wow. How often in my life have there been dead things that I have refused to let go of? How much was I dragging with me at this very moment that was draining my energy and holding me back? What old, ‘dead’ beliefs, attitudes, ideas, addictions, relationships, commitments, etc. was I hanging on to out of habit, obligation or fear and how were these things weighing me down, preventing me from moving on or growing into my full potential? Pruning suddenly got a lot more interesting.

As I pruned, I realized how tricky the process can be. Cutting out obviously dead wood is pretty easy. If it’s dead it needs to go! It isn’t always so obvious. Sometimes something on the plant looks dead, but really isn’t. Sometimes something looks alive, but is actually dead. One must really be careful about cutting something off of a plant, or out of one’s life. It must be done with a lot of discernment and awareness.

Some things look really beautiful, but they are not good for the plant. Water shoots or suckers growing up from around the trunk of a tree for example. They divert valuable resources away from the tree itself. They are lush, healthy, attractive… and yet they are destructive. Hmmm…. Have I had ‘suckers’ in my life that looked really good but wouldn’t quit until I was sucked dry of everything I have? Ouch. Snip, snip, snip.

Perhaps the hardest part of pruning is to think long term. Some cuts will make the plant less attractive in the short term, but will create a more natural looking, pleasing shape down the road. Bigger and more are not always better. If we leave everything on some plants they will eventually be overgrown, out of shape and unattractive. Another ah-ha. Sometimes what makes us feel good one day, might be the very thing that brings us down the next. Short term gratification is probably not the healthiest motivator… in pruning or in life. We might have to shorten or take off some of the longest and strongest branches, in order to maintain balance and long term health. Snip, snip, snip.

I’ve learned a lot from my pruning adventures in my garden. It really is both a science and an art. It has been amazing to see my garden transform in appearance, health and vitality. Pruning really works… in the garden and in life. Sharpen up your pruning shears, your awareness and get busy. Happy snipping!

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