On Sinking Back in Service of Flourishing

I’ve been thinking a lot about growth and growing in this season of our lives… We are in a time that involves many stressors, adverse conditions that reduce our access to the things that nourish us: relationships, physical contact with other living things/people, genuine leisure time, a sense of basic safety in our environment and interactions, financial security. It is a time that has brought (and continues to bring) loss and grief and fear as well for many of us, if not for ourselves than for people we know.

During these times, our bodies and minds naturally draw inward to conserve resources and protect us. Thinking, learning, engaging, relating, navigating social and emotional and physical and vocational spaces and activities and relationships all take literal resources in the form of physical and mental energy expenditure. Much as many plants during fall and winter draw their sugars into their roots, concentrating them there and focusing growth on that underground network that anchors and nourishes life, promoting resilience in the plant, so, too, do we feel a prompting to sink back into our center, to conserve energy and concentrate our resources in the areas where nourishment and safety are. And, much like those same plants do as life edges towards spring, it is in sinking back into our roots, and growing our contact with the sources of nourishment in our lives, that we, too, are able to expand into profusion, flourishing in the seasons where resources are more plentifully available to us.

There are a few glimmers of understanding I’m sitting with here. We have all heard of greenhouses and growing things out of season; when we do that, we call it “forcing” and that term is particularly applicable to this season of our lives. We can force plants to grow and produce out of season only by tricking them with controlled access to light and temperature and water and nutrients. When we try to force ourselves to grow and produce while resources are limited and conditions are adverse, we are not generally as successful as we would be otherwise, and by preventing that time of sinking back and concentratedly growing our roots we are not as resilient nor profuse as we could otherwise be. This applies as well to ourselves and to the people around us coping with various degrees and forms of adversity, toxic stress, and trauma. When we force growth in periods where we/they could better thrive through sinking back and consolidating energy in our roots, we/they literally, physically lack access to the resources necessary to sustain that growth. Struggling to learn, to relate, to regulate is an **entirely natural and biologically mediated result of a process that exists to keep us alive.** It is **not** therefore a reflection of failure on the part of ourselves/them.

The other glimmer is what this implies about the work before us and within us at this time. There isn’t a map here, nor any clear threshold to cross that delineates here from there or safety from risk/adversity/loss. We don’t have many places and relationships and means for containing and regulating our individual, much less our collective, trauma and stress. It is certainly not something we focus on creating in our culture at large, not teaching ourselves and each other how to do in our own persons, families, or communities. But what we do have is the ability to ask ourselves some questions, keeping in mind that the answers may apply broadly across areas of our lives or may vary depending on whether we are talking work or family or spiritual or romantic or avocational areas:

-What nourishes me? What is the soil I can root into and use to sustain myself and promote my resilience when it’s time to flourish out in the world again?
-In the areas of my life where I have no choice but to continue to produce, how can we set up conditions to be as favorable to that as possible? Where can I draw my resources away from so they are more available to these areas?
-and to step to the left of the climatological metaphor because we can: How can we “companion plant” by sharing where we have extra resources to support and nourish others who may have extra resources that can support us? Who brings nutrients to our soul? Who has broad leaves that shelter us from things that would take what we need? Who provides a sturdy place to wind ourselves as we rise up reaching for the light? And who do we provide these things to? Where can we provide to others the things that we do well (because it’s awfully hard to be a sturdy place to rise and also be low to the ground with broad leaves protecting)?

These are just a few of the things I’m sitting with tonight and questions I’m asking myself and my clients and my loved ones. Perhaps something here will spark a glimmer of your own.

May you be well. 💚🔥💦🌼

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