Cactus are quite a unique plant with quite unique strategies for surviving in harsh conditions. Some of the most unique and interesting people I have met are those who have developed unique strategies to not only survive harsh conditions, but grow and love through them.
A primary strategy of many cactus is counter-intuitive to how most plants operate, much like many concepts that help us heal, grow and connect. While most plants open the pores that absorb carbon dioxide during the day, the cactus cannot risk opening it’s stomata in the heavy heat and in turn lose the precious nutrient water it needs to hold in order to survive. The clever cactus does not give up here. He has learned to open its stomata at night, absorbing the carbon dioxide it needs in the cool evening, protected from risk of over-evaporation. Though I wonder in the process of evolution how many kinds of cacti didn’t make it through the trial and error that led to discoveries like this which lead not only to survival, but flourishing and growth…
I have found throughout my life nature is more than an excellent teacher. It is a wonderful reflection pool into our own lives. The surest version of our essence. Learning to follow in the footsteps of the natural world has brought me more healing, recovery, joy, comfort and bliss than anything else I have encountered thus far.
Last October, I was struggling to learn how to use my own voice, advocate for myself and protect myself in a hectic home environment. I felt and scrambling and clambering to hold my own against my head heat. I kept practicing and persisting in setting rigid and assertive boundaries while still trying to hold compassion for myself and those bringing me pain and grief. In therapy, they talk to you a lot about changing the family dynamic by so simply changing yourself and the way you behave. It sounds so easy in a sentence or few paragraphs, and is truly possible I have found. To some extent or another. But it is extremely challenging, exhausting, painful and upheaving.
I went on ‘vacation’, house sitting for a friend who lived on a beautiful properties a little ways out of town in a more rural area. There was a wonderful hammock outside, the shift to fall sun was beautiful, she had two dogs and the house was sweet and quaint and artsy. Everything one might want for a vacation. It was still vaguely warm out, but surely fall.
I had barely begun working at a youth residential facility for adolescents with severe trauma histories and it was bringing up more for me than I ever imagined it would. And the stuff it was drudging up or making anew were not the things I had really expected. I guess that’s what you get for expecting.
It was surprisingly difficult to be on the ‘other side’ more than it was to be on the inside. At least it seemed that way.
I seemed to be feeling discontent and a little lost. So I did what any person might do and called my very good friend who lives miles away in Colorado. We got into one of our deep, introspective, spiritual talks which are always the best medicine for both of us.
She told me this story of how cactus operate, and to be honest, after looking at our journal entry, her version was a little different…which was sweet and amusing. The moral still stands the same.
I, like we all do, had to learn how to open to myself and my own vulnerability every proverbial cool night. The times when I was safe and alone, the times when I wasn’t at work. The times when I was in nature, submerged in Bernheim forest or Tom Sawyer Park or some other safe haven. Maybe in reuniting with body via yoga or in meditation with the monks on Hubbards Lane. Or maybe just eating some Indian food on a slow night, it doesn’t even have to be hippy dippy.
I truly to believe that the most vulnerable times in our lives are the times when we are the most malleable. If we breathe in the wonder, compassion, curiosity and action for change we need rather than, or at least along with, the discouragement, shame and grief we often get instead, these vulnerable times have the opportunity to be the greatest fertilizer for the sweetest fruit.
I ended up quitting that job the same October. I also conquered things that month that I never dreamed I would be able to, even if they all didn’t go exactly as planned or expected. Even if they brought up more unknown grief than I had to being with. What’s next always seems to be what’s needed. And just as the cactus needs the cool night for absorbing one good thing, it needs the day to make another. During the day, when the cactus closes his pores, he is able to use his energy to produce splendors of sugar. Something very valuable to him. The gasoline to help him grow and root.
And I found the more I practiced the changes I made and affirmations I gave myself in my vulnerable, malleability, the more sugars I was able to make and the stronger I was able to become. And soon it felt less like trial and error and more like breathing.
I am still working on these things and many others today, as I will likely always be. Yet after each breakthrough or breakdown–however you like to call it–the trials seem less heavy and less difficult. The errors are fewer because I have learned this before. Just as the cactus, I lose some to the process of evolution. Just like the cactus I only get stronger and keep the things that serve, preserve and provide opportunity for growth.
So Open to the cool night of vulnerability and the compassion of introspection, evolve and evaluate. Try not to expect, attach or resist and grow and grow and grow.