Seeing Ourselves in Nature

Growth is a single process that unites the feelings, thoughts, actions, and
energies of every living thing. The nature of the living cell – of which we humans
each have trillions – and what we call “human nature” are not finite
but rather forever in the process of
– Robert K. Cooper and Ayman Sawaf
Bloom where you are planted.
– Anonymous

Recognizing as we do through the new story of the evolution of our Universe, that we are Nature – just as much as the plants and animals around us – brings us the opportunity to learn life lessons from Nature.  One lesson from Nature that I use as a guide for finding my own meaning and purpose in life is the realization that all natural things have cycles in their growing.

Most of us are quite familiar with the cycles that occur in the natural world around us, particularly in the areas of Earth that experience definite seasons. It is true of all Nature, and it is true for us, who are a part of Nature.

One of my favorite things to do each year is to go for a walk in the woods in early spring, when the last snowfall only recently has melted away.  I love to see the first, tiny shoots of green plants emerging everywhere on the woodland floor, their tips popping out from beneath the thick carpet of gray, decaying leaves covering the topsoil.  I take great comfort in j0185200realizing that, like those tiny new plants, I have my own built in resiliency that keeps me going, and will bring me out the other side of the “winter” times in my life.

Learning to bloom

When I was a small child, there was an apple tree behind our house. I used to love seeing that tree bloom in the spring.  Now, as I look at my own life through the lessons of Nature, I realize that, like the apple tree, I have my own “blooming” time. For me, this blooming comes when I am actively sharing my gifts with others, as in teaching a class or facilitating a workshop.

Acknowledging my own ability to bloom also means there is also the harvest time, the quiet moments when it is appropriate to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of my labors.

I also need to be ready for the day when all my fruit has fallen, and all my leaves have dropped, and I am moving into my own dormant time, just as the trees here in the American Midwest do every fall and winter.  This is when my energy is spent and I need to pull back and refresh myself. It might also be a time when I simply need to protect myself from the harsher elements of my job or surroundings. It may only last a short while, or several months.

The point is, I need to be conscious of these various “seasonal” movements in my life. Acknowledging all of these different stages of the life cycle helps me to realize that I can move in and out of these seasons in my own life as needed, and as appropriate.

Coping with change

On another note, one of the hardest things for many of us humans to face is also a part of Nature, and that is change.  Nature has taught me lessons on this challenge as well.

For several years, I had a lovely Japanese flowering tree near my office window.  In spring, its thin, delicate branches would sprout tiny buds that opened into flowers in brilliant shades of pink. When the flowers were all in bloom, the tree was breathtakingly beautiful, exquisite in its delicacy and spray of bright color. I always felt a touch of sadness when it came time for the blossoms to begin to disappear, each one replaced by a tiny, new green leaf.  Soon, the beauty of the blossoms was completely gone for another year.

I enjoyed looking at that tree so much that I sometimes wished it could retain its springtime beauty all year round. I knew, though, that while I hoped the tree would stay the same, stopping the process of its cycle of life would only lead to death for the tree.  I see now that it is the same for each of us as it was for my lovely tree.  Without the changes that come with ongoing growth, we live a kind of premature death.

It seems to me, then, that rather than try to stop change, it is far more helpful to learn to prepare ourselves for the changes that inevitably come with our continued growth.  This is especially important to remember when dealing with long-term relationships in which other people may not want or like to see us change.  It also is important for us not only to prepare for but also to ritualize some of the major changes in our lives.  Ancient peoples on Earth were much more attuned to this need than we are in our face-paced culture.

Following these new insights on the cyclic nature of life, I began to reflect on the growth patterns in my own life. I slowly began to realize that the events and relationships of my life are constantly teaching me, helping me to grow. It became clear to me as I looked back over my life that never had I met a challenge that I had not been prepared to meet.  Prior events and experiences had given me the wisdom, resources and supports necessary to deal with it effectively.  This realization has helped my faith tremendously.  I now bring this view to life in a mantra: “Everything we do in life is remote preparation for what we will do next.”

Witnessing Nature’s patience

There is another point with regard to this growth process which I think is very important.  It has to do with the scientific knowledge that everything that we see and experience around us at present on our Earth and in our Universe is the result of the unfolding of many, many previous events that have taken place over some 13.7 billion years.  In other words, it has been a very slow process!  I take comfort from this fact, realizing that I need to be patient with the speed of my own growth process, as well as that of other people.

P1010009I live near a river, and it occurred to me one day to think of my life as a river of time.  I am afloat on that river, and cannot therefore be ahead of myself or behind myself in the process of my own unfolding.  I must learn to be patient with and to reverence my own and others growth process – yet, also recognize that I cannot stop or control the flow. I must continue to grow!  Only if I do so, will I be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead for me.

Finally, as science tells us more and more about our Universe, we realize that we humans are now perhaps an important part of the ability of our Universe to reach its full potential.  Life on Earth, and perhaps even in our Universe, will depend on the ability of each one of us to make the needed choices required to continue to be bearers of Life. It seems to me we have much to ponder as we attempt to meet that very important challenge.

In this post, I have shared a few thoughts on the meaning and purpose of my life that I have gained by observing Nature, and by realizing that I, like the trees and flowering plants around me, have a right to be here, and a responsibility to bloom, and to bear fruit. As you look at the unfolding process of Nature around you, what lessons come to mind for you?

Cooper.R.K. and Sawaf A. (1996). Executive EQ: Emotional intelligence in leadership & organizations. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam. [Opening Quote p. 256]

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