Adapting to Change: Taking Our Cues From Nature
Although some changes go unnoticed, nothing ever really stays the same. Even though our day-to-day habits become second nature, the things we see and feel each day change our perceptions. The ebb and flow of the tides and the continuous sets of waves on the ocean may seem the same, but the surf patterns vary, and the sand underneath is randomly scoured away.
Consider the earth's natural wonders. They came from the violent forces of nature in catastrophic proportions: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, windstorms, glacial movement, and wildfires. The earth's mountain ranges continue to be formed by seismic activity and carved by glacial movement and erosion.
Visitors flock to America's national parks every year to witness the breath-taking beauty of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, among others. These rugged places are living works of art which continue to change as nature intends. A major rock slide in 1996 and severe flooding of the Merced River during torrential rains in 1997 drastically changed parts of the Yosemite Valley. Recent rain-driven flash floods did tremendous damage to Death Valley. These are examples of natural events made tragic because of its impact on man, developed areas, and the resultant financial losses. Older than modern civilizations, the giant sequoias need fire to survive, and the 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines get their twisted beauty from the extremes of nature which they are equipped to withstand.
Humans are perhaps the only species which works to resist natural change, but it is not our job to correct it. We are a part of it, and so it is with our lives. There will be conflict and hardship, but there is beauty and joy as well. We need to consider the big picture and not stress over its smaller parts.
It is late spring in my garden, and all around me is evidence of regeneration. The plain bulbs from years past and seeds that I planted in fall survived the winter and now yield beautiful and fragrant flowers. Bare trees have blossomed and leafed-out as have the roses that were severely pruned just months ago! I marvel at the innate instincts of seeds and plants in knowing when to sprout, bloom, and dieback.
As with our gardens, so, too, with our lives, change abounds! We lose old friends and make new ones. Our jobs may go away, and we need to learn new skills in order to adapt. Our bodies develop limitations with age or disease and force us to alter our lifestyles.
How do we cope with the unexpected things that come our way like the loss of a loved one, financial strain, divorce, and illness? They often bring such sadness and despair that we can barely manage. Yet, we do somehow get through these things, accept them, and move on. Downturns are a part of the cycle of life, and no one is immune to them. The anticipation of loneliness, fear of failure, emotional pain, and anxiety over the unknown can be paralyzing. Some of us may even limit our relationships and deny ourselves the joys of living because we are afraid of change.
Being hopeful allows us to roll with changes and move forward with a positive outlook. Think of the sun and how it sets each day and rises in the morning. Early civilizations had no scientific knowledge of the solar system and planetary orbits, but they worshipped the sun and moon and carefully monitored celestial cycles. Stonehenge and lesser places like it were carefully erected to mark the sun's movement, and rituals were held at times of equinox and solstice. In some cultures, the lotus flower represents rebirth. Following the sun's cues, the lovely flower disappears at day's end and reemerges with the bright rays.
The glorious flaming phoenix, the bird which emerges from the ashes, is yet another symbol of rebirth. Both resurrection and reincarnation are fundamental religious beliefs. The elements of nature have been personified since the beginning of human existence, and they have been the very things that continue to give us the confidence to face our transitions.
Recently, I had a visitor to the nursery where I work. She had brought in a potted patio tree for diagnosis of its poor condition. The woman said, "It was thriving until about a year ago when it began dropping leaves. It didn't bloom as usual!" After determining that the water schedule, light exposure, and fertilizer feedings hadn't changed, I examined it for evidence of pests and disease. There were no obvious signs. We pulled it from its pot and found that it was severely root-bound. When I told her that it needed to be transplanted, it's bound roots cut, she admitted that she feared doing so might kill it. Sound familiar? We do it to ourselves by resisting the inevitable!
For us, change is very much like being transplanted. We are taken from secure and comfortable situations and placed in others which are threatening and unfamiliar. Instead of resisting what is necessary, perhaps we should look to our natural world for cues. How do our forests recover from the devastation of wildfire? Think how the most beautiful places on earth were created from "natural disasters." Without the anticipation of fear, change can be a time of great excitement and energy!
When facing difficult downturns, allow yourself "a winter to rest and heal" while keeping faith in the spiritual "rebirth of spring." For those graduating, attending new schools in the fall, getting married, starting families, facing empty nests, or changing homes or jobs: consider our natural world and its ability to adapt in beautiful ways. It is the same with our lives.
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© 2012 Catherine Tally