Creative Problem-Solving Using Tree & Nature Images

by Jackee Holder


Exercise purpose

Trees are associated with generative and often restorative associations including balance, alignment, rhythms and cycles, loss and resilience. Trees remind us of the natural elements of growth. Yet the frantic pace of daily life means that it is easy to rely on what we have always done rather than making time and space to discover new and novel ways of responding to creative blocks and stresses.

Creating space as part of your creative practice to step back and reflect is a positive tool for creatives to embody. Working creatively with tree and nature images as well as associated metaphors sparks memorable and sometimes evocative memories that, when given time and space, galvanize right brain thinking, allowing exploration of issues and themes from a more organic and intuitive perspective.

Exercise description

The reflective and intuitive approach of this exercise means it can be applied to almost any creative block, challenge or dilemma.

Step 1: Advance prep supports creating the right space for getting creative with this exercise. Decide on what the question or block is you want help with. Next collect ten or more different and varied images of trees. You may want to print these out or have them open as images on your desktop or digital device.

Step 2. The next step is to choose an image to work with. You will need a notebook and pen or something to write with for the next steps. Choose a tree image that appeals to you and free write, draw or whatever feels right in response to the questions below as a way of inquiry into the presenting issue you are working with.

1. What are your first immediate thoughts and responses to your tree image?

2. What memories do the image conjure up?

3. How are you feeling in your body as you observe and connect with the image?

Step 3: Next, consider any parallels, connections, similarities or differences that the tree image stimulates in relation to your creative block or work or life issue or dilemma.

Step 4: Now deepen into your inquiry by using the prompts that follow to explore the image as it relates to your issue in more detail. Feel free to go with your own questions and prompts.

1. How is the tree in your image a metaphor or reflection of how you currently feel about your issue?

2. How is it reflecting how or where you want to be with your issue?

3. What specific aspect of where you want to be is reflected in your tree’s energy of physical appearance?

4. What do you imagine the roots of the tree sees from deep underground in relation to your issue that might not be visible to you right now?

5. What data might the tree’s leaves that have not yet blossomed know about potential possibilities or solutions that are about to become open to you?

6. Imagine your tree sharing its worldly wisdom with you. What ideas does it have about how you might go about responding to your issue differently?

Step 5: Visualization can deepen the impact of this creative practice by activating the imagination to expand and explore different perspectives. Using the archetype of the inner wise self is another approach to working with this creative practice. Imagine that your inner wise self was sitting next to you on a branch of this tree. The two of you are in conversation. Play out the conversation and guidance this inner wise part of yourself is saying to you. What would this part of your inner wise self be encouraging and motivating you to do or be at this time?

Be observant for even the smallest sign or detail. Capture what you hear, sense or feel in writing, by drawing or in bullet points. Encourage yourself to not censor or judge what you hear or connect with at this stage. Treat everything as potential possibilities (however unformed the clues and signals might seem) that can be turned into informed action.

As you come to the end of the practice explore the following question to gather together any meaningful connections or observations that have come from the practice. How could you connect more with your tree wisdom and inner wise self creatively in the future?

Think of both your ‘tree wisdom’ and ‘inner wise self’ as creative resourceful parts of the self that you can freely access whenever you feel frustrated, stuck or overwhelmed creatively.

Step 6: Remind yourself as you engage with this practice that creative solutions often don’t arrive in linear, logical formats. Boost this exercise by free writing and expressing yourself in other creative ways that feel natural or organic. Give yourself sufficient time to capture your responses in an unhurried fashion. It can be helpful to set an alarm, for example for fifteen minutes, and remain open to continuing after the alarm goes off if you find yourself in a flow.

Step 7: The reflection time after this practice is crucial. Leave time to reflect afterwards on the experience and what emerged during the practice. You might find yourself surprised by what the right brain connects with that is outside of your logical and rational mind. This part of the process is about sifting through the data to find what is illuminated. Failure to commit to this stage of the practice often means that you lose valuable solutions that are not at first glance overtly obvious.

In session or as homework

This exercise can be facilitated and introduced into 1:1 sessions, as individual development work or as part of supervision, team development and group sessions. It can be used with creatives or to foster creativity with individuals and teams. As a self-managed creative approach, it empowers individuals with the choice to take charge of the reins of connecting with their own personal power and inner resourcefulness.

You can adapt the exercise in a variety of ways. For example, a tree image could be chosen randomly without consciously choosing the image or intentionally when working with groups and teams. For example, when working with groups and teams I display a selection of tree images around the room and invite individuals to intentionally select an image to work with. Or they are given a choice to select a tree image that is not visible and is tucked away in a sealed envelope.

When working virtually you can share the images on screen or email out in advance and invite individuals to choose a tree image from the selection. When working with large groups at conferences we place a random tree image in an envelope and place it under each delegate chair. This simple action creates an air of intrigue and wonder.

Ritual and ceremony subliminally become part of the process of working with tree and nature images and it is wonderful to hear the memories and stories that are unearthed and given voice to as people work with the images in ways that feel natural and true.

A short free writing exercise around an early tree or nature memory can help individuals warm up. Let participants know not worry about grammar or punctuation, so that this does not add to the feeling of being creatively blocked. The prompts are a guide but not mandatory. Start where the people you work with are. Give yourself permission to go with what unfolds.

If you plan to use this approach as a practitioner make sure you try it out yourself to get a feel for how it works. Even more important is to observe your own resistances and any anxiety you experience so you can be aware of any parallel processes that might also be present in individuals and groups you are working with. Stepping away from logical thinking can increase anxiety for many individuals, so stay open and flexible and use your skill and expertise when working one-on-one or with teams and introduce the exercise with a light, sensitive and empathetic touch.

About Jackee Holder

London born and raised Jackee loves the diversity and richness of urban living. Her multi-layered portfolio includes her work as a writer and published author, creativity coaching and facilitation of leadership and well-being courses and workshops. She speaks at conferences and events adding her voice to what feeds and nourishes our souls and spirits. A nature and tree lover she brings the world of nature into her work at every opportunity and sees that as the voice of her creative spirit at work. She is the curator and host of the online Paper Therapy course and is currently hard at work on her fifth book.

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Twitter: @jackeeholder

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