The ancients were wise. They understood that there was no separation between mankind and nature, and that one extended the other; and that all things were part of one verse, the universe. Evidence of this comes in their predilection for fables and proverbs where the natural world has important messages for us. ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and be wise!’ How wonderful as an antidote to laziness. One has only to look at ants to get the ‘message’ for us.
And today the same is true. I was thinking as I walked to my weekly meditation about all the flowers now blooming in Spring, and especially of roses. What does it take to make a perfect rose? Well, surprise, surprise, the same three things it takes to make a fully-functioning and effective human being. Which are?
First, a rose needs sunshine, and without it, it cannot grow; in fact, it cannot flower. Second, a rose needs water and associated nutrients; and without water it cannot grow at all, but only shrivel and die. Finally, and most interestingly, rose must be pruned, and without the pruning the rose becomes wild and chaotic and, in a sense, its beauty becomes ragged and dissipated - if it has any beauty at all.
How, then, do these three actions make a fully functioning human being? Simple.
Everyone one of us needs the sunshine of unconditional love and approval, initially from parents or carers; but even later we get energy and enthusiasm from the benign sunshine – attention – of others. In fact we talk of people with a ‘sunny disposition’ meaning that to be a good thing: sunshine is energy, and people either give us their energy or they drain it from us. As children, if we do not get that sunshine we are probably going to be irreparably damaged. The question for us now is: do we give people our sunshine or do we withhold it? How can we provide more sunshine for others around us?
Second, if sunshine is the invisible energy so necessary for life, the intangible as it were, water is the opposite: we all need security, a home, food on the table, the physical necessities of life to be met. Without these, we also cannot live a satisfying life, or even any life at all. This is the physical – the tangible – aspect of how we grow. There is a great line in the New Testament which says what father, if his son asks for bread, gives him a stone? We have to meet these tangible needs, or else all else is hopeless.
Finally, roses need pruning, and so do human beings! This may seem like the least important ingredient of growth, but it is fundamental. Another word for human pruning might be discipline, a word whose etymological root comes from the same word as disciple, meaning ‘learning’ or ‘teaching’. If you have ever had children you will know how vital this is: the child has, for whatever reasons, some negative as well as many positive traits, and you as a parent want and need to encourage the positive and curb and restrain the more negative tendencies. The earlier in life that you combat these negative traits the more likely you are to be effective in disabling them . And as a sidebar on this topic, we have all seen those who think that sunshine – unconditional ‘love’ (my child right or wrong) – combined with endless water (whatever it takes buy them it) – is proper parenting; they are blithely unaware of the long term damage they are doing their children by their manifest failure to ‘prune’ them, to provide boundaries, express and insist on limits. The result is always the restless and rootless adult who can never be satisfied by reality and whose expectations of life are consistently self-orientated and unreal.
The need to prune our children is, of course, just one aspect of our lives; equally important is our need to ‘prune’ ourselves – this is how we really grow. And how does this come about? By focusing on developing our self-awareness and by accepting legitimate feedback from those who care for us, and even sometimes from those who don’t. A harsh word or phrase can contain a nugget of truth even is our ego violently wishes to resist it and its source.
It sounds hippy-ish, and I am not a hippy, but we are flowers – and we need to grow into the full beauty of what a flower truly is in its essential nature; for all flowers are beautiful, but alas through lack of love, through the absence of physical security, and through the want of tending, many flowers are withered roots, subsisting, not living. Let’s therefore seek the sun, drink the water, and examine carefully how we can be the best we can be.