What I Learned From Dead Plants

We should never think ourselves finished, we should always look to what we can in order to learn something about ourselves.

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Something that’s been on my mind for a really long time is this idea that some people hold that it costs something to be the person you are. I need to explain this a little a more, so here’s some context.

Over the last little while I’ve looked at some theories of self-care. The idea of taking care of yourself in every way so that you can your best self. One theory of self-care I see a lot can be summarized in the phrase ‘Stop watering dead plants’. I see this specific phrase a lot, and I also see the idea behind it a lot more. The idea is if you stop using your ‘limited’ energy on things/people who are “dead” or basically cannot provide any return to you, you will be better off. This whole idea just makes me really upset. I feel that when most people talk about this, they’re referring to human relationships, but it can apply to a lot more. Here’s what it really boils down to; “Stop giving if you’re not getting anything back”. This, to me, is the mindset that is at the root of many of things people deplore. War, famine, racism, social inequality – these are all being contributed to by people who are not giving anything unless they’re getting some kind of return. I get that some people, just simply wont want to give anything unless they give anything in return, that makes sense. But I’m reading articles, guides, and seeing videos from ‘experts’ that say if you want to give and that gift is being ignored or not being reciprocated, then stop wasting your energy. People are being encouraged to ignore a desire they may have, a desire to give. The questions for me then become. What’s the cost to be you? What’s it cost me to be me? If I give and give, and I don’t get anything back, am I worse off? Does that make me vulnerable to people with an interest in taking advantage of me? If so, should I not be taken advantage of? Will that hurt my soul?

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I’m going to stick with the “Stop watering dead plants” analogy. I want to explain the possible benefit of watering a dead plant by telling you a little bit my orchid from a few years ago. (I am in no way a horticulturist, I have a limited knowledge of this so please forgive if the comparison isn’t perfect.) I had this orchid in my house, purchased from the store in bloom – beautiful purple and pink flowers. The orchid stood in the window sill in my kitchen. It received at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, and was in the kitchen so I saw it every day and didn’t ever forget to water it. The orchid stayed in bloom for about two months. Then the flowers fell off. Thinking that it was just getting ready to bud and bloom again, I didn’t think there was any problem. A few days later, the leaves started to fall off as well. Thinking that I may have watered it too much, I started to closely monitor how damp the soil was. My mom was a huge gardener so I had a basic understanding on how to keep plants alive. Then after two weeks, to my surprise, the stem of the orchid dried up and turned brown. I killed my orchid. I’m not sure how but I spent two weeks examining this plant, using my energy to support it, and it just died. There’s no happy ending to this story, I put the orchid in my compost and I haven’t owned another one. About 4-5 months ago I wanted to get another plant for my house. Orchids have some of the most beautiful flowers you’ll see, but after killing one, I didn’t think it was a wise decision to get one. Then I did some research on orchid care and found out about the dormant period. Now I know all plants have a dormant period, but I didn’t know what an orchid’s dormant period specifically looked like. Here’s a quote from JustAddIceOrchids.com:

“Throughout an orchid’s dormant time, blooms drop from the stem, and the stem may shrivel and turn gray or brown. The orchid’s leaves gradually lose their bright green gloss and upright stance, turning dull and flattening out around the orchid’s base. It is at this point that many new Phalaenopsis orchid owners think their plant has died and regretfully throw it away.

Interesting. I know there’s a chance that my specific orchid may have actually died, but there’s a key point there that there’s a chance that it may not of (until I threw it in the compost). But even still, a dead plant serves a purpose. That organic material will break down into its basic nutrients. Those nutrients will go on anchor, support, and develop new life. The analogy is just an analogy, I get that. But are the similarities dissimilar to life? To relationships? To career endeavours? To seeing a love one die? I say no, emphatically. There are lessons to be learned here. I know this because I’ve learned these lessons, or I’m currently in the process of learning  them. I’ve lost people, I’ve given up on myself, I’ve damaged my relationships. We should never think ourselves finished, we should always look to what we can in order to learn something about ourselves.

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It’s very coincidental that today is Valentine’s Day. I did not plan this, but it seems fitting. I’ve never celebrated it with a partner. The only special feelings that today holds for me is fond memories of my mom making me heart-shaped pancakes, or sending notes in my lunch box to school with me. However, in my plant analogy here, the water in almost every situation is some form of love that you can provide to another person or a situation, or even yourself. I’m refusing to give up giving love. I’m not exactly sure what it’s costing me, if anything at all. Maybe it’s just a part of who I am. If it’s costing me something, I’ll happily keep paying that price. I’ve decided to keep showing love, even if something appears to be dead because I don’t actually know if it is. And maybe something that looks dead, if given enough love, will surprise you.

Thanks for reading,

Ben

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