Dynamic Wholeness Through a Childhood House-Tree-Person Lens

House Tree Person Test Dynamic Wholeness

God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought.

It’s as simple as that. - Joseph Campbell

My father, an architect, finished building our house in Suriname right before I was born. As a kid, I loved to tag along as his little assistant and help him with never-ending upkeep and renovations. This unassuming child’s play not only resulted in a solid set of handy-woman skills that I still make good use of today. The biggest lesson and gift that I retained from that special period in my life is an intuitive understanding of my body as the home of my soul.

Thanks to my father’s constant tending to our house as if it were a living, breathing thing, I became aware of my own deeper needs that were symbolized by parts of the house. However, they remained in a wordless reservoir somewhere in my subconscious mind until I learned how to interpret the “draw a House-Tree-Person test” in my child psychology class decades later. In case you are unfamiliar with this test, the House-Tree-Person projective personality test was originally designed in 1948 by John Buck, who wanted to know more about the unspoken processes and concerns of children. This diagnostic measure is still widely used today, and offers children as well as adults a way to creatively reveal their rich inner worlds and work through interpersonal challenges that are hard to articulate and capture in language.

Living in Harmony with Nature

I learned about my father’s inner world and great attunement to nature by being immersed in the behind-the-scenes creative and thinking processes of the actual houses and buildings that he designed and built. He was a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, and his famous home in the woods, Falling Water, became my favorite famous house too. Our house had a similar multi-level flat roof, was cradled by trees, and incorporated many aspects of nature - sunlight, air, earth, and water - into its structure thanks to a built-in pond, an aquarium in the dining room wall, and large front and back patios where most of the socializing and entertaining occurred.

My father’s architectural style was complemented and invigorated by my mother’s passion and green thumb for plants, fruit trees, and orchids. She indirectly taught me that we weren’t all that different than plants and trees. I was similarly measured each year to determine how much I had grown, and as I got older, I too began to branch out and produce fruit and flowers that delighted and nourished others. I was, just like a plant, sustained by natural and predictable cycles that made me feel held, connected, and part of a mysterious whole, and simultaneously reassured me that I was born with all the necessary seeds to optimally and effortlessly blossom into my unique, true, and bright self. If there was a problem due to external hampering with this natural process, it was important to examine and resolve any issues at the root level to prevent them from coming back.

Inner Peace as a Natural State

Every Saturday, we went to boitie, our 4-acre nature retreat and orchard at the edge of the rainforest where trees provided the only shelter until my father decided to build a modest weekend home where we could stay overnight when I was about twelve. All the years prior to this, I soaked up the peace, clarity, divine mystery, and wonder that enveloped me during my grand adventures into the woods among all sorts of wildlife and beautiful tropical foliage. When it was time to return to the city, I silently or vehemently protested the closed spaces, stressful schedules, muggy humidity, and heated flare-ups that encroached on my inner peace and happiness throughout the week.

As an adult, I often wondered what ignited my propensity as a kid to intuitively veer toward the puzzle pieces of my life that were purpose-related. Psychology, personal growth, spiritual transformation, meditation, and self-help were foreign concepts and never mentioned during my entire childhood. Not at home, not at school, not at social gatherings, not on TV, not on the radio. The only book store in town mostly sold elementary school-related supplies. At school, we made do with weathered, old books, or lessons that we copied from a chalk board. Our educational path was set into rigid grooves that were considered classic and foundational, according to Dutch standards. As a jr. high school principal, my mother followed them by the book and took a stance that often contradicted her other messages about human development and energy flow (be a plant vs be an efficient data processor). This alone sparked my earliest yearnings for reconciliation and fueled my quest to regain the inner sense of equilibrium, wholeness, and harmony that we all experienced when immersed in nature.

Dominant Intuitive Thinking

Despite the lack of overt, outspoken psychological guidance, every cultural group has its own psychology, its own values, traditions, and spiritual worldviews that are infused in daily ritual and are often more loudly communicated through the common interactions and transactions that take place in everyday life. Suriname is no exception to this rule. The only thing that is exceptional about Suriname is her colorful, ever-changing kaleidoscopic mosaic of predominantly non-Western racial and ethnic groups and cultures that are influenced by an even greater variety of spiritual backgrounds. It may sound like a confusing place to navigate when coming of age, but it actually seemed easier to find the most salient common denominator between myself and a large number of groups than myself and just one group. The big picture provided more clarity than a singular perspective would, and allowed me to understand and trust where I fit within the grand scheme of things, tensions, and flow.

My dissertation results revealed that my appreciation for the benefits of this kind of inclusive diversity tended to be quite common within my generation. Some of the unmixed members of the generation above me, like my father, tended to have stronger leanings toward their particular ancestral heritage, which worked for them, as long as they remained open to the whole and weren’t too hierarchically oriented and over-attached to form.

My father, who is ethnically Hakka Chinese, fortunately wasn’t, even though he was strongly influenced by “right-brain,” holistic thought processes that are most evident in the ancient roots of the Chinese language. Chinese characters are stylized, composite pictographs and ideographs that only recently have been enhanced by phonetic elements, like the letters of our alphabet, to help with correct pronunciation. For instance, the concept of thought used to be portrayed by the compound ideograph of a “heart” character and a “brain” character. Interestingly, it’s nowadays portrayed by a “heart” character and a “field” character. Abstract concepts, sometimes stereotypical, sometimes wise and spiritual, are similarly embedded in the written language, such as peacefulness (a woman under a roof) and the singular character that represents both challenge and opportunity.

During my formative years, my brain was regularly stimulated by the 24X7 insights of my father’s intuitive mind, even when doing simple and concrete activities. For example, he could literally be mixing cement or fixing something in the foundation of a house, and comment, “It makes no sense to build the house until the foundation is sturdy and all the wiring and pipes are in place.” He said it slow enough so you could catch on that he was gift-wrapping a parable just for you that conveyed something like: Take your time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make sure that basic foundational parts are in place before adding more to your plate.

It could apply to anything that I was rushing and not doing thoroughly enough: math, building a tree house, learning to cook, swim, or play ping pong. It didn’t matter. Just like Jesus spoke in parables and no one blinked twice about it in church, my father spoke in parables, and no one thought anything of it. He quietly left his continuous stream of gifts under a large Christmas tree like a Secret Santa. If you happened to notice your name on one, you could retrieve it. If you didn’t pay attention, it would just be there, waiting for you until you were ready to fetch it some other time. Or you could leave it there, if you thought that he was wrong and it didn't fit your situation. It was entirely up to you.

Generating Metaphors with Intention

While in graduate school, I specialized in cross-cultural psychology and became involved in a handful of different studies that examined the behavior, inner worlds, and mental health of Asian Americans. Many of the studies took note of the “non-assertive,” “passive,” and “indirect” communication patterns of less acculturated Asian Americans, and pejoratively attributed these tendencies to evasiveness, insecurity, and lack of self-awareness and communication skills (which later provided scientific support in developing assertiveness trainings to “help” these populations).

Especially during my tumultuous adolescence and transition from military couped Suriname to alien Miami, I drew the same conclusions about my father’s indirect communication style. It drove me nuts that he never got off his “high horse” until I realized over time that he was deliberately containing his ego-self reactions and opinions, and inviting more creative spaciousness in the conversation, especially if conflictual, to resolve matters with more expanded insight. And did he ever. He wasn’t just mulling. He was ingenious at solving all kinds of problems, something he proved over and over again in his life.

Metaphors are the building blocks of spiritual language and formed when we infuse spaciousness and creative ingenuity into the tiny gaps of our habitual intellectual thoughts.

The truth of the matter was my disconnected, ego-tripping self didn’t like to surrender to a wiser voice inside of me or outside of me without clear understanding why that would benefit me. Surrendering made me feel passive, weak, like I was giving up, and seemed to undermine my linear-thinking, go-getter mind and actions which were heavily rewarded in Western society. It took a PhD in clinical psychology and years of esoteric training to come around full circle to embrace and appreciate what my father had been trying to teach me all this time, and how much both he and my mother have shaped the person I am today.

Modern-Day Barriers and Obstacles

I now clearly see how living in modern homes and society inherently creates a barrier between ourselves, the land, natural cycles, and all of nature unless we consciously and deliberately remedy that. In our encapsulated, disconnected bubbles of existence that tend to place greater weight on the material and tangible, it’s easy to forget our innate natural wisdom. The ancient art in examining unseen roots of a problem gets lost in the shuffle or deeply buried under rubble, and we internalize and/or develop harsh inner critics that blame and shame us for the problem. We excessively prune and trim and impatiently overfertilize and subject ourselves to harmful pesticides to fix the problem, get back on track, in shape, and productive.

The holistic approach that I take to address these modern day challenges is quite simple if you look at them through my House-Tree-Person metaphorical lens. After activating third eye and intuitive guidance, you too will be able to accurately assess if, when, where, and how your “house”, your body, got disconnected from flow and mystery. Using your tree self as a template, is adequate nourishment coming in on all levels of your being, and is waste regularly removed? Are pipes and filters clean, unclogged, and insulated? Do you regularly check the dark basements, the attic, the walls to see what kinds of unpleasant things, mold, and what not may be growing in them? Do you do something about it or just hope they’ll go away by themselves?

Are all gaps and cracks by windows and doors sealed so you don’t leak out energy and make it impossible to regulate your inner climate? Do you invite insects, critters, and rodents that carry disease into your human nest by mindlessly offering them ongoing supplies of free food and energy? Do you make good use of sources of natural energy, like sunroof panels? Do you use your energy wisely or regularly blow a fuse due to imbalanced overuse? You may have your roof covered with sun panels, but if you leave your lights on all the time, don’t replace old energy hogging appliances, and leave all your doors and windows wide open when it’s freezing outside, don’t be surprised by the outcome and your energy bill.

As much as I love home decorating, creating elaborate theme parties, entertaining guests, and preparing warm hearty meals and great cups of tea, this has not been my calling and mission in life. These activities stimulate dynamic wholeness and are very important to keep healthy energy circulating throughout the whole house. My mission is to help those who are yearning to get in touch with or fortify their own self-propelled energy, flow, and passion through these kinds of activities, but keep short-circuiting and tripping up because of the same stubborn reasons.

Have you ever watched your greatest intentions and investments to self-improve just flow down the drain? You may even have joined a class and carved out that sanctuary, study, or studio in your space to start your meditation practice for real, to do some great writing, or finish that meaningful art project. Yet you keep stalling and getting derailed, dropping it and dropping out without ever intending to stop. Our tendency is to criticize ourselves for doing this, while your inner wisdom may be what’s preventing us from moving forward. It knows that moving forward would be analogous to going on with whatever you’re doing after discovering that your toilet is clogged and flooding your bedroom, or a family of mice has moved in your pantry (nothing against these little guys if they are in their own habitat). We go into blame, shame, fear, paralysis, hopelessness, and overwhelm mode, while there is nothing inherently wrong with us should this happen. It can happen to any of us, depending on our external circumstances, home maintenance knowledge, and level of practice and commitment. A big step in the right direction is accurately assessing the issue, no matter what that it.

Back to the Roots

I’m drawn to serve people who need deeper work done at the root, foundational, and/or structural levels so that they are able to maintain the level of presence, energy, and focus that creative upkeep and expansion requires. I show my love and care by getting into the “dirty” work, the roto-rootering, the restructuring and major clean ups that many people don’t have the discernment, skill, fierce compassion, patience, stomach, and experience to inspect and tackle. And the best part? I’m big on teaching and showing my clients — especially women who are intuitively in tune with their complex needs, but have either been violently robbed of and/or have denied themselves the level of self-care that their greatest gifts require, have projected their power onto men and others in authority, and have willingly accepted a quick-fix solution to move on — how to sustain an energy-efficient, clean, well-functioning, loving, and supportive house that can effortlessly embody their true nature and soul’s fullest potential.

Working from the inside out and the bottom up means exactly what it says. Level of thoroughness in how this is done greatly varies. I found that building bridges into neglected realms best sustains integrity and dynamic wholeness throughout the seasons.

Daunted and intimidated by the thought alone? Believe it or not, this process is so interesting, energizing, invigorating, and engaging that I can’t imagine doing anything different with my life. My one-on-one clients are surprised when working through some of the most painful aspects of their life produces delight and belly laughs. And while results vary, many are able to heal some painful limp or another, and no longer need crutches after working through a major neglected or compromised core issue. They discover that they can keep up, play and run like everyone else. Life finally seems to be going their way. In all honesty, they are finally going according to life’s ways, and in time, accumulate a reserve of energy and confidence to even tackle that major remodel, add the fancy sunroom, and integrate the in-home studio, services, clinic, or office into their sturdy structure and foundation to offer their gifts to the world. Because of their amazing successes, I’ve extracted and finessed the most potent elements of my medicine into a comprehensive ICU (inner critic uprooting) seminar that I will be offering to groups of women leaders, game changers, healers, wisdom keepers, and meditators starting next month.

When in Doubt, Ground

If you are familiar with shamanic journeying, vipassana meditation, or have a pretty solid relationship with your intuition, your guides may already be somersaulting and offering you some new directions to explore. Sometimes, validation and “permission” to develop greater trust in yourself is all that's needed to get unstuck and reclaim your innate wisdom and wholeness. Other times, major retrofitting work is needed to get you up to par and baseline earthquake proof. I specialize in building safe energetic containers designed to uproot the inner critic and inner saboteur, who can become infused with a burst of extinction fear and energy when working at this level of depth. An important aspect of my approach is teaching my clients how to safely run this residual energy into the ground to prevent electrocution, and how to realign within the larger as above - so below harmonious patterns of the universe for support and renewed focus.

We consist of many layers, and we often miss subtle activity and interconnected opportunities for growth that occur on many of the invisible, metaphorical levels of our being. It’s wonderful if you feel inspired to dig a little deeper and venture into unknown territory and shadow aspects of your psyche. It sometimes may seem to operate without rhyme or reason, but there is quite a bit of intuitive order along this shared mythical path of humanity. Experienced travelers and scouts of these realms as well as your own spirit guides, once they are activated, are able to detect and interpret these familiar metaphorical sign posts. Honoring them pays off. So does being aware of the scope of your inner as well as outer resources and strongholds should you accidentally stumble into places of overwhelm during your own explorations. These could include abandoned areas that are painfully rotting away as well as grand blueprints that are threatened by high winds and require specialized know-how to pin down and actualize. My motto: when in doubt, slow down and ground. Mindful meditation and connecting with nature, inner guidance, loved ones, or trusted colleagues can help with discerning what will get you out of an old sticky rut, into a cleared groove, and realigned with your optimal creative flow.


Spirit Guides - are the living metaphors and archetypes within the subconscious mind that aid our collective prison break into expanded reality. They are the specialized tools in our intuition tool box that can unlock doors, slay demons, bathe us in golden elixir, and mysteriously concoct whatever ingenious antidote is needed to reconnect us to our true nature. Some people like to work with one main guide that serves them like a compact Swiss army knife with lots of uses. Other people enjoy cultivating relationships with a wide variety of individual guides. Either way is fine as long as you don't use a hammer to fix every problem.

Dynamic Wholeness™ - the catalytic and paradoxical process of aligning our heart, body, and mind with Wise Love, embracing all that is with intuitive ingenuity and integrity, transforming and reintegrating disconnected pain and parts with meaning-centered creativity, and expanding into all that we are with purpose-driven presence and gratitude.


I am Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, holistic psychologist, spiritual teacher, depth hypnosis practitioner, and shamanic healer from the Sacred Healing Well, and am devoted to helping wisdom keepers, seekers, healers, and teachers dive deep into their self-healing potential and carve out their sacred dream paths in service of their dynamic whole self and the greater good. I am also the coordinator of the Sacred Stream's Space Clearing Society, a group of talented shamanic and energy practitioners who offer monthly space clearings to healers, community leaders, and public servants in the broader San Francisco Bay Area to help them maintain an optimal space for transformation.

My memoir, Amazon Wisdom Keeper: a modern psychologist's bold journey in reclaiming her intuitive mind and divine nature will be out in 2016. Amazon Wisdom Keeper Book trailer: https://youtu.be/i8NmNV-iXU4

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