A long time friend sent this photo as an e-postcard to my husband this morning, and I got to thinking about trees, how they grow, and how they can serve as a symbol of the Self. I think we all know intuitively what the Self is, the center of what and who we really are. This concept is defined and discussed more fully here. Briefly, though,
"THE SELF: this is, according to Jung, the most important archetype. It is called the "midpoint of the personality" a centre between consciousness and the unconsciousness. It signifies the harmony and balance between the various opposing qualities that make up the psyche. It remains basically incomprehensible, as ego consciousness cannot grasp this supraordinate personality of which the ego is only one element....To Jung the self is a representation of the 'god within us.'"
That being said, let me turn my attention to the subject at hand. While I contemplated the image of that beautiful tree in Friedrich's painting, I couldn't help but wonder about its twisted form. I remember that my Dad used to say, as he staked and supported the young trees he planted in our yard, that training a tree to grow straight is like training a child to grow straight. Sometimes pressure (in the case of a tree this takes form in ropes pulled taut by strong stakes to bend and hold it in the direction it should grow) needs to be applied for a time until the tree, or child, can stand straight and strong on its own. Surely the contortion of Friedrich's tree was caused by the weather it endured, the lack of husbandry, and possibly also by the nature and quality of the nutrients available to it. Yet in spite of wind and freezes and neglect, this tree continued to grow upward and tall, put out its leaves, blossoms, fruits, and attempted to fulfill it's purpose in the broader scheme of Nature by sending out seeds.
From here I thought about how a tree, and specifically the image of this tree, could represent in symbolic form the growth of Self. Trees have served as symbols of our Self for ages, the most famous of which is the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
"A common archetypal representation of the Self is the tree ..., demonstrated most forceably in the Teutonic myth of the world tree Yggdrasil, from which emerges the ancestors of the human race. After much study of such mythological tales and the numerous paintings and mandalas of his patients Jung summarizes his conclusions thus:
If a mandala may be described as a symbol of the self seen in cross section, then the tree would respresent a profile view of it: the self depicted as a process of growth." [Source]
We need only to look inside ourselves, if we are at all inclined toward introspection, to see how our past has formed us into our present form. The quality of our childhood nurturance, both physical and emotional; our school days' experiences, our first attempts to become adults, Life's troubles and heartaches that come to everyone all combine to form us into who and what we are today. We may be one of the few lucky ones who grow straight and strong, but we are most likely part of the majority whose form turns and maybe twists a bit from Life's buffeting. But we, like the tree, continue to grow upward as well as we know how. We still reach outward with our "blossoms" and "fruits" and hope that the next generation receives these "seeds" and may grow straighter and stronger than we. We still embody Hope.