Working with metaphor can be fun and revealing ! In this post I explore a combination of using a fairy tale and the natural environment when I was working in an orchard.
Once upon a time there was a forest of Thorns…
Recently I have been working in an old orchard which has become overrun with brambles. There was this small apple tree which was so smothered under a mass of thorns that it was hard to make out the tree at all ! My task was to remove the brambles with secateurs after years of neglect.
It reminded me of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, where the castle of the sleeping Princess is protected and imprisoned by a forest of Thorns. After sleeping for 100 years the Princess is rescued and woken by a Prince. In my imagined version of the story, the apple tree represents the Princess.
We can expand the use of the metaphor by asking some questions: How am I like this Tree/Thorn/Princess/Prince? What part of me is sleeping? What are the fruit bearing branches in my life? What do I imagine the fruit taste like? There are just so many ways we can use this interplay of metaphor to learn more about ourselves. The questions we could ask are limitless.
As I worked, I took on the role of the rescuing Prince with my trusty blade, hacking back the thorns to release the Princess tree. It was a good feeling to be taking on this noble role. It felt really purposeful and I knew that it would have a positive outcome for the tree, which was unable to remove the brambles by itself. I felt needed. The release of the tree gave me a release and satisfaction of job well done. Using the metaphor prompted me to reflect about how I might be tempted to chop down other people’s thorns rather than looking after my own (e.g. co-dependency).
The tree was sleeping like the Princess, as it’s currently winter time. We could think of the warmth of Spring as being the kiss it needs to awaken, when the time is right. Perhaps there is a parallel here with our own journey; change can happen when we experience the right conditions (a nod to Carl Rogers here). Which begs the question what conditions do we need? Or are we content just to slumber for now?
If the tree was to awaken with a cage of thorns around it, its growth would be inhibited and it might need to adapt to a different shape which is out of balance and not able to get the full sun it needs. For the tree to fully thrive, the thorns had to be removed just as we can remove those aspects that stunt our growth.
What do these thorns symbolise?
I noticed three types of thorns around the tree. The bright red stalks with green leaves were fresh, vigorous brambles with painful thorns, actively growing. They would catch on everything and really stick hard. Ouch! To me these brambles symbolise the more obvious problems we know about in our lives, for example difficult relationships, or addiction.
Then there were last year’s brown thorn stems, now dead, which were still very painful and sharp, forming a restrictive cage around the tree, but were no longer growing. To me these symbolise historical experience which still has the power to hurt and restrict us, such as childhood trauma or emotional neglect.
Lastly there were the ancient dead brambles which had lost the sharpness of their thorns, so it was very hard to tell if they were old thorns or apple twigs. I didn’t want to cut out apple stems so I had to be careful what I removed. These old thorns still imprisoned the tree, potentially interfering with its new growth. They could represent things that might not be helpful but which we’re not currently aware of or interested in, such as other people’s values which which we take upon ourselves but are not truly our own, unconscious bias, and discrimination.
Using metaphor for yourself
Using metaphor usually works best when you chose your own to work with. I wonder what fairy tale or story you see reflected in your own life, and what it may tell you about yourself or your future direction ?