I always sit up and take notice when someone tells me a dream about a tree. Many years ago I became aware that tree dreams seemed to have some special significance; they stood out somehow. So often they had that mysterious, numinous quality of ‘big dreams’. The tree (or trees) in the dream weren’t just part of the background props and the setting, they seemed to carry some particular meaning in their own right. The tree was not only a key part of the dream story but seemed also to set the feeling tone. I stayed on the lookout for tree dreams, noticing and wondering.
Back in the 1980’s, when I was exploring the world of primal therapy, I participated in several workshops with an Australian therapist named Graham Farrant. He was convinced that our pre and perinatal experience is profoundly formative of the way we come to experience the world. He once said that he would ask all his prospective clients to draw, without telling them why, a picture of a tree. He believed that the qualities depicted in this tree drawing were surprisingly correlated to the intrauterine experience of that person, specifically to the status and health of the placenta, umbilical cord, and maternal-fetal blood circulation. If the tree was full and healthy, this suggested that the womb experience was a good one. If the tree was thin, weak, discolored, or bare, or if there was some damage to the trunk, roots, or canopy of the tree, he would suspect a corresponding issue in the client’s intrauterine life.
I began my career as a naturopath soon after this, and I would always invite my clients to share their dream life with me. Over the years I began to accumulate many reports of tree dreams. Graham’s womb-tree connection was there in the back of my mind, like a young sapling waving in the breeze. I tried not to be too influenced by it, but I was starting to notice a correlation of my own– dreams that prominently featured a tree (or trees) seemed to be suffused with a feeling tone that correlated to that individual’s general feeling experience of the world. If there was a background feeling of scarcity and insecurity in a person’s tree dream, I often observed a similar feeling tone coloring much of their waking life. A feeling of abundance and ease in a tree dream could also be seen generally in that dreamer’s emotional life.
The placenta and umbilical cord bear a remarkable visual resemblance to a tree (as you can see the photograph accompanying this blog post, which I have borrowed from another blog post entitled Placenta–the Tree of Life (click here to read this post) And the resemblances are not just physical, they are also functional. The tree is rooted into mother earth as the placenta is rooted into the mother’s womb, from which both draw vital nutrients and building blocks of life. The life-giving fluids travel along the umbilical cord and fan out into the circulatory system of the fetus, as the sap rises in the trunk of a tree and from there is distributed into every branch, twig, bud and flower. To me it is not so far-fetched to imagine that humanity noticed these resemblances long ago and came to recognize the tree as a symbol relating to issues of life, growth, nourishment, and support.
Meanwhile, on the collective level, it seems that we humans are finally starting to realize how vitally important trees are for our lives, our air, and the well-being of our home planet. As the “lungs of the earth” were burning in the Amazon recently some of us were feeling a sense of urgency and dread. We are starting to experience this looming suffocative crisis not just as an idea or a theoretical concern, but as an embodied feeling of threat and deep insecurity.
In the mythology of many (perhaps all?) human societies there exists a very special tree– the World Tree or Tree of Life that lives and grows at the very center of the cosmos– generating, housing, and feeding all the abundant life around it. The life-supporting generosity of trees is truly amazing. Trees seem to be as generous as we humans are selfish and greedy. Here’s a passage from The Overstory, Richard Powers’ wonderful novel about trees and people: “Buddha’s words: A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it.”
The womb tree, the world tree, the tree of life, the lungs of the earth…not surprising that trees should appear in many powerful dreams. Tree dreams seem to have an existential quality, not so much about the meaning of our existence on earth, but about what it feels like for us to exist on this earth. Do I feel safe and secure in the world? Or is my world hostile and harsh? Do I feel nourished and supported? Do I trust my environment and the people in it? Do I feel at home? Do I belong here? I believe that many of these core feelings, feelings which we live with every day and which color our thoughts, actions and choices; these core feelings have been with us from our earliest beginnings– they first appeared and coalesced while we grew inside the wombs of our mothers. A tree dream can give us information about these very first feelings of being alive in the world and how they may still be shaping our lives.
I will be talking about tree dreams at our upcoming Toronto Dreamers gathering on Wed Nov 20th. Click here to get more information, and to register. Why don’t you pull out your dream journal and take a look through it—have you had any tree dreams? If so, please bring them along and share them. I think the trees of the world are trying to reach out and communicate with us, and a lot of this communication is coming via our dreams. Let’s gather and listen and share our tree thoughts and conversations with each other.