Taking Root: What Trees Can Teach Us About Boundary Work

Across cultures and histories both magical and otherwise, trees have long been honored as wisdom keepers, community tenders, and boundary workers. Trees are the wise folk of the forests, the silent and watchful ancestors who tend an altar of soil, root, and fossil—for the trees, deep connection and entanglement with the living world is integral to their wellbeing. Trees are healers and deep feelers, expressing themselves through the invisible root networks they weave deep underground. Though these networks are hidden from the naked eye, their magic is deeply felt; this ancient support system is an anchor for entire lineages passed down through generations of rising sap.

Trees know that our edges are where we grow from. Their bark breathes just as it protects, their blood have to power to mend and petrify, and their roots are a fertile, living boundary. When we begin the work of forming our own boundaries around the meeting place between the living world and ourselves, we can begin to transform our connections from the root.

Every tree is a magician in their own right, and transformation comes as naturally to trees as breathing does to us. They are perpetually becoming themselves, swathing their bodies in a new, thicker ring of bark as they drive their roots deeper and wider. Tree magic is slow magic, and through their language of stillness and reflection, they can teach us to honor our own entangled edges, communicate through our root systems, and form healthy boundaries within our connections and communities.

When we come to trees for support in boundary work, we're offering ourselves an opportunity to build a foundation of self-trust. This allows us to get clear on what is, and is not, for us. The trees ask: where do you end, and where does the living world begin? What makes your magic your own, and not someone else's? What needs, desires, and traits have you inherited without your permission? With the help of the trees, we can trace these origin stories back to their beginnings, charting new paths towards agency and authenticity along the way. Create a sacred container for your journey towards boundaried living with this tree connection ritual.

Creating a Living Boundary: A Ritual for Healthy Connection

Use this practice to hone in on and differentiate between energy that belongs to you, and energy that belongs to other beings.

For this ritual, you will need:

  1. A tree you have a relationship with (even if that relationship is still in its seedling phase)

  2. A cup of water

Bring your cup of water to the tree you'll be collaborating with in this ritual, and offer yourself time for stillness. Allow your eyes to drift closed, let your hands rest in your lap, and breathe without restriction.

When you're ready to begin, bring your attention to your chosen tree. Notice how it feels to look at them—are they dizzyingly tall? Impossibly wide? How much, or how little, space do they take up? How long do you suppose they've been here? Bring your attention to their environment, and notice other trees in the area. Who are they near, and who are they in communication with? What other beings are in relationship with this tree, and what kinds of relationships are they? Can you find any physical evidence of boundaries being set by this tree?

Noticing how your chosen tree relates to the living world around them is the first step towards developing an awareness of your own surroundings, your own edges, and your own boundaries. Spend as long as you need just witnessing this tree with your full attention. When you feel you know a little bit about who this tree is to their environment, consider how your own body is affected by their presence.

How do you feel in close proximity to this tree? What physical sensations are heightened? Are any of your senses dull, or muted? Is your emotional body activated? Try and pinpoint at least three sensations you're currently experiencing in the presence of this tree. Can you discern what of these feelings the tree might share? If it feels good, communicate your experience to your chosen tree, and ask them how it feels to be in your presence. Practice intuitive listening, but don't expect an immediate or human response. The act of asking can be enough.

When you're ready to close this practice, remember to thank the tree for their time, and pour your cup of water over their roots. If you feel called to, journal about this experience while it's still fresh in your mind.

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