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Beyond Branches

a yogic perspective on pruning

November 10, 2010 by Ashley

I spent a large portion of the summer and fall pruning fruit trees: lopping, reducing, cleaning up, both literally and metaphorically. And in doing so, I found fruit I didn’t even know was there.

Yes, way up amongst unruly branches and whipping leaves, I found wisdom, self-acceptance, and listening skills that I had a hard time seeing through the overgrowth: all of my personality aspects, blocking out the light.

When I was first taught to prune, I was afraid of lopping off the wrong branches, or too many. I felt paralyzed. Adding that to all the leaves billowing in my face, I also felt overwhelmed. With so many instructions and contradictions, plus no previous experience, I climbed down from my ladder, hoping to get a better perspective from the ground. I realized that it is often in taking a step back from my own overwhelming and confusing emotions that I am able to gain a better perspective on a situation.

I did the Divine Light Invocation, in which I asked the tree to tell me what it needed, and where it wanted me to cut. I visualized myself cutting the tree in the light—being gentle and loving, listening, rather than relying solely on the instructions given. I wonder how I can do this in my own life: responding from my centre, my intuition, my heart, rather than relying on the confusing and oftentimes contradicting ways I think I ought to do things.

When I opened my eyes, I was much more peaceful as my doubt had diminished. The voices in my mind repeating pieces of disconnected information had almost ceased. I felt much more relaxed and confident: switching my focus from trying to do something just right, to listening to that calm and quiet inner voice, wise enough to know that it doesn’t have to shout in order to be heard.

Now, when I explain the pruning process to others, I invite them to also use their intuition and listening skills, while still giving them three basic guidelines.

"Branches going against the desired shape of the tree have to go"

First, I remind them that fruit trees are vase-shaped; they open up towards the sun like arms in vrikshasana (tree pose). The sun wants to pour into the tree, to nourish all the leaves and fruit, but if there are branches growing across that opening, the sunlight will not be able to get to the rest of it. Therefore, branches going against the desired shape of the tree have to go. What are my own stubborn, rebellious branches growing against my ideals and the ultimate shape of the life I want to live?  How can I recognize them? Why am I attached to some of these personality aspects, and how can I cut them off to let my own fruit, my divine virtues, thrive?

The next thing I tell my fellow karma yogis is that trees also need space between their branches; without space, air can’t flow freely, dampness sets in, and fungus can grow—and when it does, it spreads like rage (which is coincidentally French for rabies). And when fungus, rage, or rabies grow, they change the composition of an otherwise beautiful living creature, turning it brown, soggy, bitter, and completely different from the way it would normally behave if it were well.  In short, it becomes rotten. Like children who are given everything they want rather than what they need, these trees become spoiled.

Harvesting practice, patience, discipline, and love

I wonder if I am feeding myself the things I need: discipline, love, and creative inspiration, for instance—or if I’m giving in and feeding into the comfortable, toxic taste of jealousy, egoism, and greed. I think these are the three musketeers I can get at a vending machine, providing a short-lived boost of energy, but ultimately leading to a crash in blood sugar, inviting lethargy, short-temperedness, and, over time, weight gain, acne, dental cavities; and if they overtake the healthy food being consumed, malnutrition. How do I give myself the same space I would give a tree to avoid getting consumed by rage or other manifestations of resistance? Does rage, like other diseases, grow from neglect?  How can I tend to myself with the same focus and loving gentleness with which I prune a tree?

The final guideline I give is that in addition to sunlight and space, trees and especially fruit also need nutrients, which are mainly found in the leaves. These absorb a lot of sunlight, which feeds the tree, and provide shade for the fruit and bark, which prevents sunburn. However, when there are too many leaves, too much of the tree’s nutrients go to feed them and not enough go to the fruit. How can I direct my own energy, the nutrient-rich sap that sustains my existence, to the things that support me, while creating optimal, loving, healthy conditions in which I can thrive?

Thinking back now on how nervous I was about pruning at first, about cutting off the wrong branches or too many, I think about how hesitant I often am to change my habits when I’m overwhelmed, confused and barely conscious of unhelpful, unloving, or unruly personality aspects. In pruning fruit trees, I’ve discovered the importance of discrimination: deciding what can stay, and what needs to go. I’ve learned that this is a very intuitive process, and one that requires divine listening: paying attention and surrendering to my inner wisdom—which takes practice, patience, discipline, and love: some of the very fruits I want to nourish and harvest.


  1. Wow, I had the same day today. Thanks for your beautiful reflections.
    Not just today, but this fall. It really is about pruning with loving kindness. I also just today picked some amazing apples from a neighbors tree who has completely neglected the beautiful offerings. I am always surprised to see so many fruit trees around towns right in peoples own yards, that they don’t harvest from or prune. That’s a metaphor in itself. It’s like you say, just step back and view with calm clarity and the divine fruit is right in your own yard. Yum.

    Comment by Simon Haiduk — November 10, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  2. It’s been lovely to feel you growing, Ashley, thru this Process. And now one form of harvest in this article, this joyous delicious fruit, which reflects who you’ve become thru Divine Mother’s guidance, the work of so much surrender & self-acceptance. And meeting ‘You the Writer’ – that’s the woman I know, and yet who has a lot to teach me.
    Thank you.
    Om Krishna Guru,

    Comment by Sylvia — November 10, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  3. What a well-written article, Ashley. Amazing how you connect pruning with the inner work that you have been doing. Also amazing is how your talent follows you and you can turn a piece of writing about just about anything into something beautiful.

    Comment by Jenn and Andrew — November 10, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

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