In the past week, I have been experiencing a lot of grief due to the loss of two family members and a dear friend. The feeling of grief is a familiar one for me, and though it isn’t my favorite emotion, it is one I am comfortable with. This is not true for so many people in the world, as our communities, families and educators teach us that it is a forbidden feeling, something to hide away from the world. In deeply experiencing the letting go that comes with the loss of a loved one, mental and visual clarity arise along with a profound feeling of gratitude for all of the loved ones within my community, both close and extended.
In nature, the cyclical process of loss is tied intimately to renewal and birth. In my early years of gardening, I didn’t understand this connection and was very linear in my thinking about the garden. Plant seeds, water, watch seedlings grow, pick fruit, watch plant die. Repeat. It was a completely uninformed and disconnected way of viewing the world of living beings.
As I have learned to observe more closely, the actual cycles of life have revealed themselves to me throughout the seasons. I’ve come to recognize the interim stages of growth. For example, a seedling is a tender new growth that requires great care and attention to grow strong. Plenty of nutrients, water and gentle sunlight will support healthy growth of a seedling. Too much zigzagging of temperature, poor soil or inconsistent water will compromise the growth and the plant, if it survives, will produce less.
Once the plant is strong, it will grow happily, adding new stems and leaves as it expresses its joy of living. The addition of flowers comes in preparation for the apex of its growth – the ultimate purpose is in creating the next generation through the production of seeds. When the fruit is ripening, the supporting elements begin to droop, yellow and wither putting all of the life energy into the fruit. At first, when I saw this happen, I thought there was something wrong with the plant. Then, I came to understand that this place between the height of production and the end of life is a natural juxtaposition.
It is interesting to walk around the garden in summer and observe this dynamic of death and birth that is happening even in the midst of what is usually considered the season of vibrant living! You can see in the following photos an array of plants that have formed seed heads that have already dried in the hot weather and are beginning to spread their seeds for the next round of growth.
The wondrous process of nature is that its ultimate purpose is continuation of life. So, as the plants dry out, become brittle and seemingly lifeless, that is exactly the time during which they are most valuable. When the seed heads dry out, the pods burst or the seeds get released from the rotting fruit, they drop to the ground below. From there, they may get carried by an animal or perhaps the wind to another place to germinate. Some will stay in the original spot and wait. Many of these seeds are food for the wildlife in the area.
Some of the plants take on an ethereal nature when dry and ready to spiral into the next stage of life.
When the colder and quieter season of winter has passed and early spring has arrived, the dormant seeds begin to awaken and grow deep underground where they are not visible. Much like a young fetus, life begins in a vulnerable way, with enthusiastic, hidden growth. Suddenly, it seems, the new plant bursts forth from the ground, revealing its presence. A baby’s presence is felt through the thrumming of the blood flow and revealed in the sudden kick of a tiny foot.
If you were looking closely though, you would see that there are tiny indications of life coming up before most people are aware of it. This happens inside of ourselves, too. When observing ourselves closely, looking for the tiny hints of change and growth, sometimes it feels sad and other times exciting. These little trickles can be felt and influenced even when they are deeply underground and newly forming. These revelations offer an opportunity to live in an aware, mindful way allowing for recognition that each phase is continuously moving toward the next one.