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'Know thee the Willow Tree...?'

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

'Know thee the willow-tree

whose gray leaves quiver,

Whispering gloomily

To yon pale river;

Lady at even-tide

Wander not near it,

They say its branches hide

A sad, lost spirit?'

Once to the willow-tree

A maid came fearful,

Pale seemed her cheek to be,

Her blue eye tearful;

Soon as she saw the tree,

Her step moved fleeter,

No one was there- ah me!

No one to meet her!

This poem from the 1800's never fails to pull me back into my heart. If you'd like to read it in its entirety it's 'The Willow Tree' by William Makepeace Thackeray. Its a story poem about a maiden who is waiting beneath the willow tree for someone who never comes.

This experience of being reminded of the sadness and disappointment of an emotional need not being met, through the poesis of imaginal space, is I think, very important to us humans both on a personal level and on a cultural level at this time. Remembering in the moment of poetic recognition how longing and hope feel, and their close associates, loss and despair, is a 'stop in your tracks' kind of counter-point to all the ways we might be compelled to try to meet an emotional need in our own lives. The striving and the reaching, the over-adapting or the withdrawing, the strategising, or at worst, the manipulating or attempts to control the other.

It's my belief that the Willow, by representing all this for us in our imaginations, holds archetypal healing space for us in its presence, and that that has been long known to artists, poets, and even philosophers.

Humans are vulnerable in the places we need other humans. This vulnerability is what makes intimacy and a sense of connectedness possible. Yet of course it also leads to most of our extremes of suffering and poor treatment of one another, in the form of unkindness and abuse or neglect, and of ourselves in the form of addictions and complusions. I've noticed that the answer to that for some is to attempt to become so well regulated, so self-contained, so dissociated from these painful inner spaces, that the 'problem' of grief or of rupture, or loss of relationship goes away. Sometimes those same people set themselves up to teach others these tricks too, but often this kind of assymetrical transmission serves only to shore up frustrated desire and compulsion in the long term. Spending time with Willow this month as part of the 'Take it to the Trees' project has been helping me fill out into more of the capacity of my heart for feeling. Not to make it go away, but rather to expand my being to be big enough to hold space for all of it with kindness.

For me this segment of my deep-mapping journey with Willow has been proving to be a time to take emotional stock. A time for reflecting on where I am emotionally in relation to all the people and experiences and concerns currently in my life. It's my belief that most of us have partial or faulty maps of our inner worlds. When we have a map of the terrain of our own human inner experience, and are able to contact it and stay with it and remain present to ourselves in more of our difficult emotional places; each time this happens there is an easing, and a softening towards others and ourselves. Recovering the lost map sections is an important part of continuing to grow into adults that can rise to the challenges the fractured containers of our shared social life are currently presenting.

Those who have worked for a time with the Enneagram of Personality will know that the archetypal 4 point on the symbol is a space where there is an honoring of the human capacity for the movements and subltiesof feeling and emotion running through the human heart.

Indeed those who identify here at point four as being core to their personality and are following this school of wisdom teachings, are on a journey to find equanimity from an excess of identification with their emotional waves. For the rest of us though, the role of emotion in our lives can often be relegated or disowned or otherwise contorted and that can create different kinds of problems in our relationships with others and ourselves. In an archetypal sense, that is the 'sad lost spirit' of the poem that lives within each of us, and needs the kind of tender nurturing care we might reserve for a broken hearted friend. A gentle soothing and unconditional acceptence of their time of suffering.

In the Willow chapter of 'Take it to the Trees' I share a guided viualisation to help you to atune and connect to the deeply compassionate spirit of Willow. There are also eight further invitations to deep- map with other trees with their own archetypal possibilities to explore. And if you already know you like this way of journeying to recover lost parts of your own inner map, I do hope you will consider making contact with a view to working together, on your own deep map of the archetypal features in your square mile, or that you might join us in September on the short course, 'Deep-Map your instinctual Self'' All you need is a willingness to explore in your location, and a phone with a camera, and a journal.

I look forward to journeying with you soon.

For the month of July, 'Take it to the Trees' by Samantha Taroni is on sale on Amazon

References and Images

Willow tree photograph from Flood Meadows, Hampshire, England.

Image of Kwan Yin,Buddhist Goddess of Compassion 'Guanyin with willow branch'. Smithsonian Institution.

Iconic willow pattern plate has its own sad story of two thwarted lovers. an interesting piece can be found at

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