“Everything that is alive requires pruning.”
— Dr Henry Cloud, leadership consultant, best-selling author, and speaker
“It’s called pruning,” he said. “It’s helping the tree grow stronger.”
“It’s a crab apple tree,” I explained. “It won’t grow no prunes.”
The tree-man just chuckled and returned to his task.
That was the spring after a long, cold and memorable winter. As a kid I felt dwarfed by the five-foot drifts that clogged our driveway, so densely packed that a man could walk across them without falling through. We had to get our dairy milk to market, so Dad hired a grader to plow out the driveway. When the driver turned around in our yard, he accidentally backed over my mother’s ornamental crab, breaking branches and crushing it to the ground.
After the snow had melted, Mother asked our local tree man — a neighbour and amateur arborist — to examine the tree and see if it could be salvaged. He was doing his best.
“Do you only prune broken down trees like this one?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he replied. “Healthy tree requires occasional pruning, too.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the care and pruning of trees can teach us a few important lessons about the need for care and pruning in our lives. As I watched the tree man, he explained that pruning is essential to assist the growth and overall health of the tree.
I have discovered since that most arborists use a three-stage pruning process.
First, they remove the dead or broken branches.
Second, they remove any branches that may be growing across each other or may eventually forms forks and split off from the trunk. This is done to allow the heartier, more well-directed branches to grow firmer. It also opens the tree up to more light and growth.
Third, they carefully clip and cut away some of the healthy branches to shape and enhance the natural beauty of the tree. The result is an attractive, healthy and vibrant tree.
As we work to nurture our self-esteem and to improve and promote our personal growth and awareness, we are using much the same process of pruning as the arborist.
First, we need to remove that which is no longer alive and vital in our lives. This could mean removing clutter from our homes and releasing things that we no longer use. It could also mean removing and releasing pain from the past that haunts our dreams and limits our growth. It might mean leaving that dead-end job or saying goodbye to an unhealthy relationship. If we’re willing to be truly honest with ourselves, we’ll likely know intuitively what needs to go.
Second, we need to remove the distractions that grow across our paths, creating unwanted forks in the road that lead us astray. Now that I’ve reached my middle years, I have become acutely aware that time is not unlimited. We have only so much of it here on Earth. As the years pass quickly by, time becomes a precious commodity not to be wasted. If you want to accomplish your dreams, you’ll need to remove the clutter from your life and open yourself up to more light and opportunities for growth. You need to focus your attention on what’s important.
Third, we need to do some careful pruning and shaping to create the beautiful life we expect and deserve. At this point, I like to live and work (when I’m at home) in an environment that I consider beautiful, and that means one that is simple, spacious, clean and filled with love. I enjoy entertaining — especially positive people who share my passion and enthusiasm for life. I spend a great deal of time with my family — my children and grandchildren. I have a smaller circle of good friends whom I love dearly and far fewer acquaintances than ever before. There’s a lovely pond behind my house, and I’ve started going for evening walks. I’ve also set up a small work-out station in my basement. For me, less is becoming so much more important.
Our tree man worked for the better part of an hour on the tree. To be honest, there wasn’t much left of it when he was finished. When I asked him if it was going to “make it” he just smiled and told me to keep an eye on it. Nothing much happened for the first few weeks but one morning I noticed new growth, and before long, the tree returned to vibrant life. Even today, some forty years later, the tree is still healthy and beautiful — though in need of another good pruning.
Maybe that is something we need to keep in mind. We shouldn’t wait until we’re crushed and broken to consider doing some pruning. Just as my mother’s ornamental crab requires ongoing care and maintenance in order to thrive and produce fruit, so do we. Only when we begin to care about ourselves will we begin to care for ourselves. The better our self-esteem, the more we begin to acknowledge the need for self-care and start making time to do it.
American essayist, lecturer and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activities and concentrate your force on one or a few points.”
If you’re looking to open up your life to more light and growth, you may want to take some advice from your friendly neighbourhood arborist. Pruning can be a little scary at times, is often difficult and you may run the risk of hurting or disappointing a few people, but consider the alternatives: obligations that leave you tired and uninspired, relationships that have run their course, and all the “stuff” that blocks the light and hinders your growth.
Murray Fuhrer is a self—esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self—esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.