Saturday, October 30, 2010

Survival

White Oak (Quercus Alba) in the Friendship Garden USNA
It's fascinating the way a plant thrives in the perfect conditions, in comparison to the way it manages to just survive in less than ideal conditions.  The way it will bloom and take advantage of all that it has been given or hunker down and just try to not to die.  This summer was a perfect example of the latter because of the drought.  Some plants made it and some didn't.  For example: There was a Ginkgo that turned brown and dropped it's leaves.We thought was dead, but we watered it anyway.  Once it had the water it needed, it produced more leaves (albeit smaller versions of themselves) and got back on with the business of producing and storing energy. If you look around DC you'll see that many young Sycamores lost their leaves early this year, many Beeches, Maples, Plums and Pears had leaves with brown edges in the middle of August.  This is an example of the way plants sacrifice their ephemeral parts when necessary. Survival first, production later. When the environment makes it safe to spend energy producing leaves again, the trees do not hold back.

Ginkgo
And so I'm reminded of the things humans have in common with plants ...We too are endowed with the natural instinct to survive in the face of adversity.  We too, instinctively turn-off the parts of ourselves that seem un-neccessary, heavy or painful during times of stress or tragedy in order to 'keep on keeping on."  Like plants we have survival modes, times when we go dormant or hibernate.

But there is a price to prolonged exposure to stress-- on plants or on people--be it drought, flood, fear or famine --even when we survive, we have scars to show for it. The Ginkgo survived but its second set of leaves are smaller, and next year they will be small again.  Over time this can weaken the tree because the less green surface area on the leaves, the less energy it can produce. If the next few summers are more hospitable the Ginkgo should catch up, but if the stress is prolonged year after year, the Ginkgo will decline. It will forget how to fully embrace it's environment and eventually it will die. Humans are this way.  We have memory of pain and then fear of more pain.  As a survival technique, we teach ourselves the best ways to avoid pain.  This weakens us in the long run too because the more stress we sustain, the less likely we are to throw our hearts out there and really be able to thrive. 

Survival is key, and we should applaud ourselves for getting through rough times....but there is more for us.   We need to thrive as opposed to just maintain the status quo.  Thriving is crucial for personal achievement, for breaking the mold, for having a life and relationships that are exceptional.  Plants "turn-on again" as soon as the conditions allow it.  They re-grow their leaves, produce flowers and seed because they know that thriving is essential to increase their species.  Nature is harsh and the fittest survive.  When we turn parts of ourselves OFF in order to survive in difficult times, it's important we find a way to turn-them-back-on once it's safe to start thriving again.  If we can't-- if we don't--we will not get to experience growth --we will not be fulfilled.

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