Metaphors for Personal Growth
It’s springtime. At this time of year, I find myself staring out of a sunny window, enjoying the warm glow of the sun, and dreaming about spending time in my garden, tending to new growth—a little fertilizer here, a tiny little prune there. Gardening is a gentle and loving process.
I developed my love of gardening with my mother, a gentlewoman herself, and the garden is where we spent our time together, sometimes independently, sometimes working side by side. Always cooperating, always bonding. Mom would pull weeds, and I would fertilize or water in behind her. Years later, she is gone, but her love of the garden lives with me, full of beauty, wonder, and mystery. Plants, trees, and their deep influence on us all combine and provide a spiritual place to spend time, savor the experience, and reflect.
Mom tended to pretty, colorful little flowers. She liked them best. I had more of a penchant for trees and shrubbery. One gardening lesson I learned from my mom was that the garden gives us what we tend to and whether we have to or not, we all grow and evolve. All garden inhabitants need to be nurtured, loved, tended to, and supported, and when they get these needs met, they flourish. In fact, it’s never too late to give someone or something you love the time and attention they need to thrive.
Although she is no longer with us, perhaps my mom exists on another plane of existence, in an alternate dimension. Is she still gardening, metaphorically? Perhaps she continues to shine her light of love from wherever she is now. Are my inspirational thoughts really just messages that she somehow sends to me? I know I can feel her energy whenever I think of her, and sometimes she comes to mind while I’m dreaming and wondering about my garden.
An Underlying Narrative
Whether I want it or not, there seems to be a story line that life, the universe, and a power greater than myself is insisting that I experience and learn from. Seriously consider “right thinking” and mindfulness.
Remember the Lesson
Be Cautious: Where we focus our energy is what grows. Mental and emotional energy is like food or fertilizer for character traits. We all want our businesses to succeed, our relationships to be joyous, and our children to grow up happy and have everything they want. But perhaps we should consider more than satisfying immediate urges and reflect upon the overall emotional impact that our actions are having and who we are evolving into as people, too.
Generally speaking, I fully realize that there are many exceptions to what I’m about to say – management and leaders have historically wielded fear and threats like a knight may have relied upon an ax for protection. In our more modern era, though, perhaps the worst among us tend to hide in the shadows of success. They may appear successful outside, superficially sporting Armani, driving a Porsche, and regularly jetting off to Miami, London, and New York. They keep themselves busy with power and controlling others, all the while avoiding their own lonely, selfish heart.
These are among the most aggressive among us: mean-spirited, self-centered, narcissistic, and the first to throw us under the bus. Why? It may have something to do with their lack of emotional connection or compassion. Thankfully, there is a clear movement to develop a compassionate spirit in both life and in business. Gentleness and compassion are healing qualities that we all need and will respond to lovingly. Spend your time, energy, and money accordingly.
“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now. Don’t focus on negative things; focus on the positive, and you will flourish” – Alan Watts
Change in Perception
Are you the same person today as you were five years ago? Unlikely. You’ve been creating a memory bank of positive and successful experiences for as long as you can remember, right? If you have, you’re among those who are more capable today due to learning and growing through experience and perception. If you have too many negative and failed memories, I urge you to consider a change in perception. We can learn valuable lessons from our mistakes, too. There is “gold” in them thar difficult experiences, gifts that are being offered only to you, the one who has endured the experience. Find the gold, upgrade your perception, and benefit. Consider for a moment, “how have you benefited from your difficult experiences?”
Honestly, life can be a struggle at times – and I do mean a painful, hellish, challenging struggle – for many of us. If we just do not know how to role with this and find the gold, consider consulting with your Psychologist. Why hold onto upsetting memories when there are always lessons to be learned and silver linings available to us? Once understood in this way, we’re able to plan our days as well as our futures, founded on the invaluable lessons we’ve learned. This approach or attitude (mindset) doesn’t necessarily make life easier, but it does make it worthwhile. Our future success builds upon our past success.
Life and its journey are not always easy; they are often trying, yet are also about adapting and transformation. Whether we like it or not, happiness and success are usually about personal development and making adjustments. Change is often our best course of action, but when we have an emotional hurt that just will not go away, our tendency may be to clench up and try to maintain everything as it is. Is this really desirable? I mean, if feeling hurt is your desired outcome, well, you seem to have achieved it. But if you want something better, something different from what you already have, then change seems to make sense. Be the happy, healthy, prosperous, well-adjusted individual with significant relationships that you’re looking for. Change is natural—everything in life changes.
What is the point of change?
We might just as well ask about the meaning of life itself. Personal development and improvement? Is that not the point of change, growth, development, and evolution, anyway? Consider. Are we consistently fruitful and happy? Of course, we all have somewhat challenging moments, but the answer is universal. In fact, it is impossible to be consistently successful, well-adjusted, and happy all of the time. Life fluctuates, and we move right along with it if we are wise.
Like my mom, the most healthy tree bends when it is whipped around by the wind. Otherwise, it would break. Yet, these trees are held fast by an expansive network of roots. She did not appear strong or commanding on the outside; she bent and was flexible when her environment demanded. What precisely symbolized her root system, I’m still not clear, but in the end, I remember her as strong, compelling, and wise. Metaphorically, our root systems reflect not our emotional needs, not our egos, and definitely not our bravado, but what keeps our feet, hearts, and minds firmly grounded and nurtured. They may be out of sight, but the branches and leaves we love so much wouldn’t provide us the beauty and shade we enjoy without them.
Viewing trees in my yard, those with the most gnarly and scarred bark, are those we see as having character. The same gnarly and scarred emotional experiences evolve into the best, strongest, wisest giving experiences anyone could ask for. As we accept the bumps, bruizes, and downturns of life, we strive and reach high like a flower reaching the sun. Our goals and dreams now become grandeur and more remarkable than we could have imagined before.
Like living on a continuum, we accept where we find ourselves when we wake. Then, not being completely unhappy or satisfied with this continuum point, we expend effort to move along the continuum in the desired direction. You decide on the direction. Our movement creates and releases energy. It’s challenging and rewarding.
If we charted our experiences and emotions, they would reflect the ups and downs of any stock market chart. If we were to continually experience the same emotion to the same degree, we would eventually lose that feeling. We would be unable to maintain it, and we would begin to feel something else, like a loss of that emotion, such as disappointment, sadness, numbness, or confusion. At best, we would experience an emotional “flat line.” No shame or disappointment, but no joy, optimism, or happiness either. Blawness, if that makes sense. One feeling inspires us to enjoy the next one.
We can experience one emotion because we have experienced the other feeling—the one that counters the first, somewhat different and balances us emotionally. Consider emotions to live on a dichotomous scale or a continuum. Feelings then are always a relative experience. The fact that yesterday I was worried and confused partially explains why today I feel confident, focused, and creative.
In fact, if you experienced an exhilarating day yesterday, you might encounter a bit of a lull today. Expect it. It’s simply a natural bounce-back. It’s an evolutionary process of nature. We continuously flux emotionally, and the direction of this emotional flux informs us of immediate change, movement, and opportunities. Like the seasons or the stock market, our mood will move upwards or downwards, always self-correcting.
Today’s feelings give rise to tomorrow’s experiences. I only know the degree of my happiness today because I remember how bewildered I felt yesterday. We can actually “find ourselves” by making a conscious decision to change. If you are not happy with something about yourself – say you are still a smoker and hate that fact about yourself – when you are ready and decide that it is time to become a better person, you start feeling happier because you decide to change. By following through, you’ll become even more satisfied and confident. You’ll be able to relish your achievements.
To really feel the happiness, we need to accept ourselves, of course, but that does not mean we shouldn’t also accept that part of ourselves that wants to grow, become stronger, and be more capable. If you realize that success and happiness might just be experienced more frequently by disciplined ones, you can begin to struggle and practice becoming more disciplined yourself. It will likely be a struggle, but we need to hang in there, love ourselves through the change process, and maintain our focus on our ultimate goal until we get over the fight. Clearly, change is not all rainbows and lollipops, but perseverance with change will set us free.
Choose My Emotions?
You have heard the story about two wolves who meet in the woods, one black one white. They engage in a fight. Which one wins? The answer, if you know the story, is the one that you feed! The wolves are merely a metaphor for our inner struggles. Which wolf will you feed and nurture inside yourself – the smoker or the non-smoker; disciplined or carefree? There is no right answer, but the way you answer creates a unique experience – your particular adventure. Will you nurture love or hold love back. You decide, but it will move you along the continuum. Which direction? The choice is yours.
I want to clarify here that we have been the ones who have chosen all along. We were the ones who fed and nurtured one wolf over another our entire lives. There have always been outside pressures on our decisions, but the final decision was always our own (children excluded). We might have lacked a degree of conscious awareness about it, but that is a significant component of my message. The more aware we can become of what is important and meaningful to ourselves, the clearer our decisions can be. If we are unhappy, dissatisfied, or irritated in any way, we can decide to change, grow, develop, and evolve. However, only to the degree that we are clear and aware can we consciously create our own happiness and success.
The day you decide that you are more interested in being aware of your thoughts than you are in the thoughts themselves – that is the day you will find your way out. Michael Singer
Michael, I believe, is thinking about the importance of personal reflection. He is encouraging us to consider not just our garden and what is in it, but how it will make us and other inhabitants feel. This gardener thinks, plans, and creates strategies for a garden long before it comes into existence with the ultimate purpose of creating a place that will nurture the soul—plenty of emotions spread throughout. The garden, in this case, is another metaphor for our mind.
The gardener sows seeds and provides homes for baby plants according to their blueprint. Then, we care for them as they mature into individually beautiful plants, finally displaying a very charming garden. A peaceful, meditative garden. The garden is the symbolic representation of our emotional world. You may recall that I have said that emotion or mood reflects the quality of change we make. Although we usually strive to achieve a final outcome, as I’d like to suggest here, change quality may be ultimately more important and valuable than the final product itself.
Seasons of Life
As much as we rely on the love and kindness of others to energize us and assist us in meeting our needs, we will benefit just that much more if we care for ourselves with respect and compassion too. Growing seasons come and go, showing up with a smile, only to wither into a peaceful slumber. There is nothing wrong with us because we are not growing 100% of the time. We are not broken. The season has not died or ceased to exist. It merely naps, changing its form slightly and allowing what was there last season to show up in the spring all over again, this time bigger and better than ever before.
Some call it growth—others maturity. Either way, be very careful of the “thoughts” and “beliefs,” “values,” and “expectations” you plant and nurture in your mind. Just as my mom is no longer with us, her love of the garden lives with me, bigger and brighter than ever. It has value to me, and so I nurture it. I have had to make room for new plants important to me and weed out others that were likely more valuable or meaningful to my mom. Like the blossoming flower, we all reach up toward the sun. Such is life. Just one gardening lesson I learned from my mom.
“Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.” ― Aberjhani