I’m not a gardener, but I know this: in order to flourish, a plant needs the right temperature range, the right amount of sunshine, and enough (but not too much) water to drink. It needs a certain degree of humidity, enough acidic bite or alkaline chalk in the soil it feeds from; visits from certain pollinating insects.
Each plant has its particular needs. It might live in other conditions, but it can’t thrive. It might even die without ever flowering, without fruiting. Would it know that it had never reached its full potential? Would it wonder why plants around it were flowering and it was not? Or would it simply never know that anything else was possible beyond the leaves it had achieved?
Perhaps it’s easier to imagine a lemon tree, growing up through its first pair of leaves and on to its destiny: the exuberance of flowering, and the glorious fulfilment of bearing ripe fruit. Of being fully engaged in the life flow of the Universe.
We are like this but different. Our needs, both physiological and psychological, are almost certainly more complex than those of the lemon tree. (I say ‘almost’ because life holds many mysteries, and we would do well not to be too certain about anything.) However, your ideal conditions and mine are certainly complex, and they are unique. They include elements such as the town, county or country we live in; the types of environments we thrive in; the people we need around us, and who we need when and how much; the work we do and where we do it, and who with; the amount, types and content of the information we ingest, and so on… conditions a lemon tree could never guess at.
The other way in which we are different is our mobility; our agency. We can manipulate conditions for plants; we are also able to manipulate our own conditions in ways that plants cannot do for themselves. Perhaps the root of our life’s work is to recognise the conditions we need, and do what we can to get them met, so that our potential might be fully manifest, and our contribution to the world fully realised – or as close to full as we can ever get.
Skilful gardeners or growers recognise and even anticipate the needs of plants. They sow each seed, or plant each seedling, where it will thrive, and help it to get all it needs to flourish. They look at plants, they look at soil, and weather; and using their particular alchemical gift they just know.
In order to recognise our own ideal conditions, we can observe the patterns and stories of others, and we might sometimes see similarities. But we need to be careful. We can assume that what worked for one person will work for another (same but different) person. Determining our own ideal conditions isn’t a one-stop visit to a website, or a simple reading of the label in the pot. In the complex society we’ve co-created, the best way to recognise our needs is by listening.
Our bodies and our souls tell us quite clearly when they are not thriving, and if we pay close attention, they also tell us what they need. The more primal part of us just knows it needs to grow towards the light.
Sometimes our heads disagree with what our bodies and souls want, and this can cause a painful and sometimes paralysing internal conflict. Some say we should ignore our heads: ‘go with your gut’, or ‘follow your heart’. But I’m always reluctant to impart such advice on its own, as that’s to disavow what our heads have to offer.
It’s important to distinguish between the offerings of rational thinking, and fear. Both have something to offer. Rational thinking helps us research our options, so we have as much information as possible before making an important decision. It helps us devise a plan. Fear, on the other hand, whispers to us of all the things that could go wrong if we followed our heart, our ‘plant’ instinct. Fear is not our enemy; it is trying to keep us safe. Logical thinking can help us decide whether our fears are rational, and trying to stop us plunging headlong into a dangerous or seriously detrimental situation, or whether they are based on outdated information, and are simply restricting our growth.
In times of inner conflict, clarity seldom comes quickly. But as we reflect on and discuss our choices, and begin to experiment, we become more able to discern our most fundamental needs and desires. Knowing a Right Answer is waiting somewhere for us to find it would make things more simple. But there is seldom a ‘Right’ thing to do – just endless choices, with many potential and unforeseeable consequences. Some people find this incredibly liberating; others find it alarming. Someprefer to grow like a lemon tree: in a designated position, with familiar conditions conducive to success.
But sometimes you may sense that a leap is required – a leap the lemon tree can never make. This means risk, and loss, and so it takes courage. But that leap could lead to abundant flowering, and to fruits more beautiful and exotic than you ever thought possible, when you wondered about your potential from your familiar position.