Pruning a Tree
Bernie Siegel


I have always found it hard to prune a tree and relatively easy to operate on someone.  That may seem coldhearted, but when I am operating on someone I am removing a disease or correcting some defect in the person's body.  I can remove dead limbs from trees, but any other pruning is upsetting because I don't want to saw through something that is alive and appears healthy.

One day I was standing in our yard next to our mimosa tree with Jeff, who is a master gardener.  "Dad, you need to prune this," Jeff said, pointing to the tree.

The branch he was pointing to was very large and covered with many beautiful blossoms.  I told him I didn't mind that it grew at an odd angle.  I didn't care about the shape or symmetry of the tree.  The branch was alive and bearing blossoms and I didn't want to lose it.

Jeff listened to my impassioned plea and then said, "Dad, if you don't prune the tree, it will die."

Now he was speaking my language.  If we were dealing with a threat to the life of my patient, then I could understand my consultant's advice and the need to operate.  I got out my saw and removed the limb.

What did Jeff and the mimosa tree teach me about life?  There are times when you must be willing to give up a part of yourself to save your life.  In some cases, it means literally giving up a part of your body or the loss of the use of limbs or organs.

How much you regret giving part of yourself up depends on how you define yourself.  It is easier to lose parts of your body if you understand your essence and realize you are more than the sum of your parts.  You have a spirit and soul that cannot be altered by pruning.  Yes, the envelope can be altered and the container can be crushed, but the essence remains unaltered.  Your faith and love can continue to exist no matter how badly your physical body is damaged.

This is a difficult lesson for most of us.  Take a look around and you'll see the people who have gone on living and loving despite disfigurement, paralysis or loss of limb.  If you see their example, learn from them and realize that you are a spirit.  Then you will understand how to give up physical parts of yourself and still be capable of performing acts for the greater good.

I removed a portion of the lovely mimosa so it could go on providing us with beauty for many years to come.  I believe the tree understood this more easily than we do.  Whether you are pruned by surgery, aging or disease, accept the fact that you must give up portions of yourself, at times, in order to survive and continue growing toward the light.  Remember that losing one part may lead to the enhancement of others.  Your work of art is not finished until the day you die.


People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.
Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.

Thich Nhat Hanh


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