Lessons on Pruning

My lovely landlady, an avid outdoors woman and environmentalist, recently invited me to go tree planting with her at a local lakeside recreation area outside San Miguel. I jumped at the chance. I’d never done anything like that before so the idea of getting outside in the sunshine and getting my hands dirty sounded like fun.

It was a perfect day for it; cloudy enough to prevent us from getting too burnt and sunny enough to get our requisite vitamin D intake.

I couldn’t wait to sink my hands into the soil; connecting with Mother nature and the local community in a positive way.

An initiative run by a Mexican environmental group, both locals and expats were invited to participate.

It wasn’t too difficult to spot the guys who were brought in to lead the tree planting. Their long, narrow shovels and broad shoulders gave them away.

“These guys actually know how to plant trees,” said a young guy co-ordinating our motley crew of volunteers, “So we will let them get started while you go over there to learn how to prune.”

He motioned to us, the enthusiastic but confused bunch of gringos.

I had to laugh at myself arriving at a tree planting with absolutely nothing to offer except my inexperience. An agricultural and environmental engineer led us in a short course in tree pruning, which was actually rather interesting.

There is certainly an art to it that I didn’t know about and it was then that I learned my first major lesson on pruning:

Lesson #1: You have to learn to prune before you can plant.

I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to plant trees rather than prune the craggy old ones. But isn’t that always the way? I have always wanted to head straight into the good stuff before putting in the hard yards required to get there.

I’d rather be hands-deep in rich, fertile soil than shoulder deep in dead branches, but what is more important? Nurturing what we already have or planting for the future? Both are equally valuable, but in my experience, pruning dead branches has always come before planting new seeds.

It was time to get to work. As I didn’t bring any tools, I started with the simple task of removing parasitic plants from the tree. As you do…

These crazy little balls of fun look harmless enough, like something out of a Dr Zeus story, but apparently they are evil killers which destroy the tree with their cute little whispy-whisps (that is the direct translation).

I was surprised to learn that they are only dangerous to the tree, however, and when removed from it they fertilize the ground and provide an excellent source of food to birds and other small animals.

Lesson #2 Our ‘parasites’ can kill us, but also provide healing for others.

I was once really afraid of sharing my emotional ‘parasites’ with people, because I thought they would judge or dislike me if they knew the ‘real me.’ In fact, the opposite has been true.

When we share about the things which hold us back and keep us stuck, we provide valuable awareness for others in their own life. We all have these ‘wispy-wisps’ (nice word for them, don’t ya think?) which prevent us from realizing our best selves, so why not be honest about them and help someone else in the process?


A lady pulled up with her car full of pruning tools so I figured it was time to get serious about this thing. I grabbed a long, razor-edged saw and sought out my next ‘patient’.

I really didn’t want it to be her. I pretended not to see her, preferring to set my sites on one of the other, prettier trees; one I could return to its former glory with a few, easy snips. But something told me this old girl needed me.

Lesson #3 The mean, messy looking ones are the ones who need the most help.

It’s easy to help kind, friendly people. It’s easy to smile at someone when they smile back. It is more difficult to reach out to those who begrudge any sort of human contact or connection, but those people are the ones who need it most.

Whether it’s the rough-looking kid at school, the geeky guy at work or the mean woman at the local supermarket, the people who repel others with their tough or awkward exterior are the ones who we must see. They need a kind word, a smile and some eye contact. They need to be shown that someone sees them, cares about them, loves them.

In my experience, the ones who need our attention most are the ones we would rather not give it to.

It took me a few minutes to negotiate my entry point to the tree, lest I be stabbed by its many protruding, sharp thorns. But I persisted, knowing that a little pain then would save her a whole lotta pain later.

Lesson #4 Pruning hurts, but not half as much as not doing it.

It hurts to identify, isolate and cut away pieces of ourselves which no longer serve us. They have been with us for so long, they even start to feel comfortable, even though they stunt our growth and inhibit our progress.

Sometimes it just seems easier to stay the way we are, dead bits and all, but in my experience, cutting away those pieces, whilst painful, is extremely freeing. Afterwards we usually wonder what we were afraid of in the first place.

Part of the journey of life is identifying the decisions, perceptions and behaviours which block the way leading to our most authentic, fulfilled lives. It might be uncomfortable to let them go, but the freedom to discover our most true and loving selves is always worth the effort.

I really wanted to help this girl thrive, but she had a huge, dead branch in her center, stunting her growth. I tried to get to it with my saw, but between the thorns and the size of the branch, I couldn’t manage on my own.

Thankfully one of the experienced locals came to our rescue. With his industrial sized saw, ladder and expert technique, he had the old girl looking like a young sapling in no time, free from the dead bits which had been choking her from within.

#Lesson 5: Call in the experts

We can all use a bit of help pruning away our dead bits, whether it’s healing from past hurts, recovering from trauma (big or small) or talking out a problem.

An expert doesn’t have to have a gazillion letters behind their name, but you will recognise them when you see them. People with experience in the field of pruning will probably tell you as much. They are open and interested in you. They are unashamed and inhabit their space on the planet like a comfortable pair of slippers.

Sure, they may be a trained expert too, or maybe just someone who has dealt with a similar issue as the one you face. A mentor, friend, counselor or support group can provide a sure hand and the right equipment to help you emerge into your next phase of growth. In my experience, however, you have to seek them out and ask for help. It’s not easy, but it’s a vital part of the process.

And I’ve never had anyone knock me back yet.


By the end of the day my sense of connection and accomplishment was so high, I forgot all about the tree ‘planting’. The pruning was so therapeutic that I realised I was the one who got the most out of the day, rather than the trees.

I know the other volunteers felt it too, because that’s the thing about pruning, it feels so damn good once it’s done.

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Lessons on Pruning — 13 Comments

  1. Love this!!! Like digging out an ingrown toenail or infected splinter? It must be done for healing to take place! Love how you share your enthusiams for learning with us all! (P.S. I get the same thrill when I purge my closet or garage… Ha! Therapeutic!)
    Keep pruning & keep growing! Love u!
    holly recently posted..faith is a choiceMy Profile

  2. You are on fire these days. Your analogies are so powerful and inspirational! I love this idea. I just got done doing my first full yoga practice in a long time (outside of my 15-20 min targeted practice…like, honest, hardcore breathing and om-ing and all that). It feels like cutting away the gunk. I love this visual and will try to use it in my next practice.
    Carmel recently posted..WHAT DID WE MISS?My Profile

  3. Yourself and the trees aren’t the only ones who benefited from your pruning work:) Your posts have really helped me reflect and get inspired in areas of my life I haven’t been focused enough on. The simple things, like pruning an old tree, sometimes (often times)have the most profound effects.
    Tracey recently posted..The Worst Feeling Because of a Language BarrierMy Profile

    • That is so lovely to hear, Tracey, and proof that the once mis-guided and separated (me) have something to offer others. It makes it all worthwhile, thank you xxx

  4. This is so great! In all my forays into farming and habitat restoration work, I never thought about it like that. So this is enlightening! Did these realizations come to you at the time when you were pruning, or later when reflecting on the experience? Awesome that you’re out there volunteering and among the trees! The trees are quite wonderful teachers, eh?
    Sam recently posted..Gearing up for backpacking season!My Profile

    • Hey Sam! Was just thinking about you! The whole day was like an active meditation, the thoughts and feelings flowed and I went from tentatively snipping to hacking off those dead branches like my life depended on it. It was indeed very theraputic. You are right about the trees, they have much to teach us!!! Xxx

  5. I love how life is one huge metaphor. The whole world is a huge mirror showing us what exactly what we need to see.

    And I was suprised too to read that it wasn’t just tree planting happening at a tree planting event; the existing trees needed to be maintained as well. Of course that makes perfect sense, but I think sometimes we environmentalists can be like: Step 1, dig hole. Step 2, plant tree. Step 3, the earth is now saved, sit down and have a chai and congratulate ourselves on how awesome we are. lol. When an ecosystem really needs a hand it takes so much more than planting trees to help it – and doesn’t that metaphor just apply so nicely to the landscape of our own lives. 😀
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Follow Me On Social Media!My Profile

    • Hahaha! Have a chai! Yep, that’d be me! Yes, I have found that having quiet time every morning to connect with divine guidance takes away that need to ‘save’ and gives me a sense of purpose for small tasks. I can just do what is in front of me and not have to save anyone or anything, which ironically makes me of more service than if I were trying to run things! :-)

  6. Pruning sounds easy enough, but I know there is a lot more to it. I especially love when you can prune trees and bushes to look like different shapes and statues. Thank you for these lessons on pruning. I learned a lot about how to prune the crazy overgrown bushes, as well as help the messiest people in life. They need our help the most.