Too much heat, not enough rain, too little attention – my garden is a mess. And when my plants start showing signs of neglect it’s a clear indication that I might want to take a look at what’s going on for me as well. Like so many folks I’ve talked to lately, I’ve been going through a period of challenge and stress; and as often happens, my patterns of self-care and nurture got somehow waylaid in the process. Of course that’s a spiraling problem – it’s hard to feel better when you’re neglecting what makes you feel good. And the other day when I realized I was feeling as parched and fragile as my thirsty and neglected flowers, I instituted an emergency care plan. It includes a conscious return to all the daily practices I feel helpful and uplifting – no skipping anything that brings me a level of comfort and balance. And I also gave myself permission for a few days of retreat, to simply set aside all that’s been worrying me and focus on refilling my oh-so-sadly-empty well.
I’ve been doing lots of reading. I remember summers when I was a kid and our library had a summer policy where you could check out an especially huge number of books. I remember the joy of having a huge stack to work my way through – it was exhilarating. I still have huge stacks – that part hasn’t changed at all. And I’ve always got several books going at once. I used to think that said something negative about me, but now I tell myself it simply honors the fact that I’m complex and multi-faceted and my brain likes to be treated in the same manner.
I just finished reading Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. It’s definitely a light summer read, just the thing for sitting on the porch while sipping lemonade. But it also had me reflecting on how important flowers are to me. I came by interest in flower essences and aromatherapy honestly. It’s rather ironic though that the family green thumb gene mostly passed me over in favor of my grandmother, my father, and now my brother. But I’m glad to have access to it even if it’s tangential.
I always feel grateful for the myriad of blessings flowers seems to bestow, and I always feel like I’m learning something new about them, about myself, about people in general, about the world. That’s one of the things I most enjoy about them – they’re so generous with their wisdom that transcends so many varied circumstances. I’ve often thought that studying flowers is like studying with some of the greatest philosophers.
Here’s one of my favorite passages from Hot House Flower:
Orchids develop through a process of natural selection and should be treated as the rare individuals they are. If you consider humans, each one of us has about a one-in-two-million chance of being alive. So does each orchid. We understand each other’s rarity, and that is probably why we are, as a society, so crazy for orchids. On the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, orchids are not difficult to grow. In fact, they are the perfect plant for people who can’t grow anything at all. They don’t need soil. They don’t need fertilizer. They don’t even need a pot to grow in. All they need is air. We like to make orchids seem difficult to grow so that we can feel special when they do. They are about as hard to grow as grass.
Contemplating that really helped shift things for me. I’ve been paying particular attention to people’s stories and my own stories – the things we tell ourselves and believe about ourselves – and examining for myself those that I hold on to that actually aren’t serving me at all anymore. There certainly has been lots of that around my recent plunge into the depths of challenge and fear. I like the paradox of orchids. It reminds me that I’m ordinary AND I’m special. And really, who could ask for more?
Have you learned something about yourself from a flower? Or have you read something interesting this summer? Please share.
I absolutely agree that this seems to be a time of change for many people I know.
Change can be difficult and also can take time.
This summer I planted butterfly weed in a planter on our patio. I also have (at least they were planted) butterfly weed in the small prairie back in the yard, but I never seem to see it come up there.
The plants were doing okay (they were first year plants) and each grew about 2 ½ feet tall and had small blossoms. One day I came home from work and the plants looked odd. I walked outside and was admiring all the plants on the patio, when I discovered the butterfly weed was covered with caterpillars munching away very happily. It was actually interesting to watch them eat (and the plant was ½ “gone” by then). I took a few pictures and meant to send them to the directors of a local nature reserve, but just didn’t get to it that night.
The next day I was at the reserve with a business issue and mentioned the caterpillars to one of the directors. He was really excited and showed me a picture of a Monarch caterpillar. That was it! They had not seen much Monarch activity in the reserve this year. He told me they will decimate the plant as they are voracious eaters, but the plant will come back again next year as beautiful as ever. Plus, if I have the right environment nearby, I may be able to watch the chrysalis.
When I got home all that was left of my plants were stems! Not a flower. Not a leave. But the plant is alive and will grow even bigger next year and flower again! Plus it has played an important role in the cycle of nature.
I have left the pot right where it is – in the middle of a number beautiful Datura plants. It too is beautiful, just in a different way.
What beautiful teachers, flowers can be.
Thank you sharing your experiences. What a beautiful teaching you received.
Oh Katie – what a wonderful story! How exciting to be part of the Monarch dining club! I love Monarchs and was just thinking about one of my favorite kid books, Ghost Wings, which is set during the annual butterfly migration in Mexico during the Days of the Dead. Sometimes I dream of trees full of butterflies, but that’s certainly something I’d like to see with my waking eyes as well.
I just ordered the book you mentioned after reading the book description. It sounds compelling. I need a light read. The last 2 books I read, although good, were more than a little draining (I do recommend them, though): The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian and Little Bee by Chris Cleave.
I recently got a fortune cookie with this fortune, “Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” I’m not much of a risk-taker in many ways but I’m trying to embrace this. I feel like I’m on a brink, an exciting brink…unfortunately, I’ve felt this way before and it just kinda dwindles away 🙂 but I’m trying to grab the momentum.
Now I think I’m going to have to look at Ghost Wings, too, I’m not familiar with it. You’re a good book recommender. I do like butterflies and I do love Day of the Dead.
Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll add them to my reading list.
Very sage fortune cookie advice! I’m always delighted by a good bite-size piece of cookie wisdom, and yours is classic. And I’m sending all kinds of good thoughts and energy that you keep your momentum going.
May Butterfly bring you blessings of transformation.
I loved your November post. I am finally learning to rest when I need to, and I am SO enoying the space that Art Every Day Month is helping me create just to allow myself the pleasure of artwork for art’s sake. No pressure, and when I feel the need to rest I am doing so. Wow, what a change!