When I observe creatures and plants in the natural world, I am often struck by how boldly “themselves” they are.
I recently watched juncos bathing in puddles on the first clear day after several weeks of rain. These little birds did not mope about wishing their legs were longer or had more meat on them. Nope. They unreservedly threw themselves into the winter water bath, shaking their feathers, gripping the mud with their toes, raising their beaks to the sun.
Juncos also don’t sit around beating themselves up for not having the ability to hunt large game and feed their families with a full-in-one-sitting meal. Instead, they dart and flit about in the grass, picking bugs and seeds until they fill their bellies. There is a distinct lack of reserve in the way they move about. They know their bodies, accept them as they are, and use the tools they have to their fullest function.
Or, when’s the last time you sensed a valley oak apologizing to the world for not having smoother bark or for not producing sweet, juicy fruit? They lose their heavy branches in the winter wind, they drop their acorns in the fall, they watch the grasslands burn at their feet . . . and they stand, just being their oak selves.
In fact, to survive in the wild, there’s no time for foxes or whales or praying mantises or anything else to deny their basic makeup. Plants and animals must follow their instincts and fully surrender to the gifts their particular biological makeup has given them. This allows them to both thrive through the seasons and fulfill their place in the larger ecosystem.
We humans have this ability to help create our lives through our choices. And that gives us incredible potential to remake the lives we’ve been handed. But the power and luxury we have for reflection can also have a destructive side—destructive to ourselves.
I could list many ways people I interact with are hell bent on destroying some part of themselves:
They’re not naturally good at books, so they kick themselves over and over for not measuring up in school, completely overlooking that they have extraordinary abilities in the kinesthetic realm.
They ruffle people’s feathers with their straightforward perspective, and so they shut down that frank, truth-seeing part of themselves for fear of hurting someone again.
They received negative reactions to their artistic creations, perhaps because they were not “practical” or “useful,” and so they starve their creative urges, robbing the world and themselves of the perspective and beauty their art might offer.
We twist and contort our natural makeups in so many ways to try to meet perceived family, religious, or societal expectations. These attempts to destroy parts of who we are affect not only our mental health, but also our physical bodies. A National Institutes of Health Fact Sheet states: “Many studies document that psychological stress is linked to a variety of health problems, such as increased heart disease, compromised immune system functioning, and premature cellular and cognitive aging. Some evidence suggests that mind-body therapies could reduce psychological stress.” Yep, over the past century, even Western medicine has begun to acknowledge and prove how connected our minds and bodies are.
I don’t know much else that produces more psychological stress than the belief that we should change something that we cannot possibly change. This often-obsessive belief holds us in limbo until our bodies or minds break under the stress.
What if we could simply change our relationship with those loathed aspects of ourselves rather than seek to destroy them?
Here’s the thing. Many pieces that make up who we are can be used for both creative and destructive purposes. Let’s look back to nature, at poison oak, the “bad guy” of the plant world. Despite its notoriety for causing agonizing pain and itching, poison oak fills an important function in its environment. It grows in disturbed soils, adding a layer of protection for ground that needs restoration, discouraging human interlopers. It also provides shelter and food for lots of non-human animals.
Same with stinging nettles—they really hurt if you touch them the wrong way, but they are also an incredible wild source of nutrients and medicine if you learn how to handle them.
And same with so many aspects of who we are.
What’s the poison oak in your internal landscape? What parts of yourself do you stay away from because you believe they’re bad? What if there are incredible gifts of medicine and shelter to be found in those places, and it’s just a matter of learning how to interact with them in a healthy way? Yes, you can sting someone, but perhaps you can also bring someone healing with that same aspect of yourself.
I believe the possibilities are worth the exploration.