One of my earliest childhood friends, and longest, as we are still close, is a landscape designer. He is very good at his job, and, like me, is old enough that he learned his craft in college before computers were essential (or easily available). So unlike most in his field, he does not use specially designed software to create concepts for backyards and patios and the such. Instead, he sketches his plans by hand on a drafting board. I have seen many of these at completion. After he pitches it to prospective clients (they always go with him!), he gifts them the drawing at the end of the project. Most frame them and hang them in their house. Which is not surprising. They are true works of art, drawn with patience and precision and, dare I say, the magic of mindfulness achieved by drawing with patience and precision.
As a landscape designer, my friend is also an expert on plants and trees, lawns and all that grows in soil. I often ask him for advice, especially about pruning my fruit trees, a practice that for some reason I just can’t seem to master. Basically, my friend always gives me the same general suggestion: “Prune the way you want the tree to grow.” That is, if you want it to go straight up in the air like a corn stalk, prune away the branches that going off at different angles. But of course, it’s not that simple, as attested by the way I’ve seen my friend prune his trees, using shears the same way he sketches, cutting with care, shaping, observing, taking his time, savoring the snips.
So there’s more than just hacking away when it comes to pruning. According to an old Better Homes & Gardens Book I found musty and moldy in my family’s basement, when it comes to pruning, “Your goal should be to cut in a way that you help the plant develop to its greatest potential, while adapting to the scheme of your garden.” The passage also explains that, “New growth will start from the bud or buds just below your pruning cut.”
So why am I writing about pruning in a column and on a site that strives to examine what it means to be a good man in today’s society? Well, basically, I think when it comes to reaching our greatest potential, men or women, we need to cut away that which we don’t need, while adapting to the scheme of our garden…i.e., life. And because new growth will start just below the pruning cut, where do we then, carrying the metaphor to pertain to our personal lives, our personal relationships, work and other aspects of selves, cut…or begin to think to cut.
As with all philosophical/psychological questions that interest (and confound me), for clarity and focus, I turn to my ace in the hole, Jason Kurtz. Jason, a practicing psychotherapist in New York City, author of the acclaimed memoir Follow the Joy, and an award-winning playwright, says this about how we might “prune ourselves”, so to speak, to reach where we want to go:
Pruning and growing are apt symbols for the work of therapy. When someone is in therapy, they explore their lives, examining what is working for them and what is holding them back. We then focus on pruning the aspects of ourselves that inhibit our growth, learning how to manage our anger or fear better, discovering what lies at the root of our inhibitions or excesses, and developing methods which let us let go of unhealthy habits or patterns. When we let go of what no longer works for us (or perhaps what never did work for us), we find that the energy that was trapped in these patterns is now free to aid us in accomplishing our goals. I imagine this is very similar to what a master gardener does, and in the end, we can grow into a shape that allows our inner beauty to shine forth.
Wise words. Now it’s time for me to go outside and take a look at my peach trees. But first, perhaps, I’ll take a little time to see where I want to grow this spring, before I help them on their way to a flourishing and healthy season.