Trees & Ladders

Written by Abbie Tagney, March 2022

Last night I attended an event called ‘Climb Trees Not Ladders’, the ladder being symbolic of the very linear and narrow definition of ‘success’ our culture currently has and the tree being symbolic of something more expansive, able to hold more people, less up and down hierarchical positioning.

We can look at the ladder as the out of balance, hyper-masculine way in which our society is constructed at present.

When you take one section of the ladder - two side panels, a rung above, and a rung below - you have a box. In this super Yang, highly logical culture we’ve created, we’ve become obsessed with categorisation and putting things into boxes. But boxes are limiting and confining, leaving little room for nuance in a world which is massively complex. The box on the ladder has no room for lateral thinking, for thinking ‘outside of the box’, which is generally what is required for true innovation to occur.

The ladder holds few, not many. Even if it's a never ending ladder, there’s always someone above you or below you. There’s no room for someone to journey alongside you. You’re either staying in place, being climbed over, or climbing over someone else. All of which is precarious on such a narrow structure.

So then, let us look at the comparison. A healthy, grand, and mighty tree, with many big, outstretched branches full of leaves.

You can, of course, climb up and down, but you can also now move sideways, diagonally, and around. You no longer have to climb over someone to get a little higher. You can shout up and politely ask the folks above to create some space for you, or, they might anticipate your energy coming up from below and move out of the way with a ‘the more the merrier’, welcoming attitude.

People can stand, sit, or hang next to you. You can chill, have a chat, enjoy each others’ company without needing to hold on for dear life because there is space to do so.

And if a branch becomes too crowded? Onto the next one you go! in whichever direction you feel suits you best.

What I noticed within the discussion of the group, is that we were only talking about the visible part of the tree, which is still very much in the ‘up and out’, above the surface, ‘into the light’ realm of the masculine.

It is the roots of the tree that enable it to grow and flourish to such an extraordinary size with enough capacity to hold the many rather than the few.

This is where the tree begins.

The roots grow first, down into the Earth, before any shoots start to appear above the surface.

This ‘in and down’ into the dark is the realm of the feminine.

The unseen.

Below the surface.

It is the root system of the tree that creates its stability. The tree can only grow as tall and wide as its roots have dug down deep and long. If the root system becomes rotten or corroded, it ruins the integrity of the whole tree. A turbulent outer world could send it crashing down to its death, never to stand upright again.

Whilst the leaves synthesise light to feed the tree, the roots collect water and minerals which are also imperative for the tree’s nourishment.

We’ve learnt that it is actually the root system of a tree that enables it to connect to and communicate with other, neighbouring trees. Trees which have an excess of nutrients pass it along to those which have less through the root and mycelium network deep within the ground, enabling the ecosystem to thrive.

Deciduous trees also model for us a natural resting phase. In the autumn they shed their leaves, which then drop to the Earth, rot down, and help restore some of the nutrients to the soil.

The tree, to all intents and purposes, looks dead or barren in winter, but we know that it’s just lying in wait for spring to return so that its leaves can begin to grow once more.

This Life-Death-Life cycle is the natural order of things, not the eternal upwards and outwards of the hyper-masculine, linear growth model where rest and death are rejected.

Going back to the ladder…

Even if we had multiple ladders next to each other, forming a lattice, which would enable lateral and diagonal movement, it’s still very two dimensional and lacks the scope for those on it to go around. There is no honouring of circles and cyclicity in the ladder system. They have no roots and lack solid foundations. They are man-made and, ironically, would have originally been made out of wood, from trees.

The system of ladders doesn’t incorporate the feminine - the unseen, the dark, and cycles.

The tree embodies both the linear journey of the masculine - growing upwards and outwards and the movement of nutrients up and down the trunk; and also the cyclical journey of the feminine - the in and down of the roots, the natural rest period, and its three dimensional shape.

If we look at the tree in terms of our humanity…

The soil could symbolise the quality of what we consume - food, drink, media, education.

The roots might represent what goes on beneath the surface of our human experience, i.e. our emotions, feelings, subconscious patterns, and body sensations.

The trunk could represent our structures and systems based on some core shared values.

The branches might symbolise some slightly more specific beliefs and values.

And the leaves could be symbolic of all the many and varied, individual lived expressions of these.

Note that the different leaves and branches do not fight with each other about whose beliefs are right. They’re just there, in total acceptance of each other as part of the beautiful, majestic whole. In fact, they're working in harmony with each other as much as possible because they innately know it will benefit not only the whole tree, but themselves as individuals too.

As we climb up and down and around the tree of Life, we might align with certain beliefs and values at different points in time.

When we’re no longer in alignment with the branch we’re on, we can move to another that feels like the right next step for us.

Of course, there are also multiple trees - a veritable forest!

You may wish to climb down from one tree, rest a while outside of structure in the space in between, before deciding to climb back up the same or, maybe, an entirely different tree.

Each tree is unique, even if it comes from the same family. They are not uniform like the multiple ladders next to each other.

There is space between the trees, they are not right up next to each other, leaning on each other in co-dependent ways as the lattice of ladders has to.

And remember, deep in the Earth, in the unseen, the trees are communicating with each other and sharing nutrients.

They might look like separate entities leading independent lives, but underneath the surface of things, they are all connected and living interdependently.

They are one.


Climb Trees Not Ladders was organised by #allgooddivorces - a co-creative project between Sam Crosbay (@mrcrosbay), Holly Donnelly (@hollydonnelly), & Helen Bishop (@helzjbishop).

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